Winter Planning on the Rock Farm

Winter on the Rock Farm this year has been remarkable, with steady rain creating a beautiful slushy feel when walking around the paddocks. With the rain has come plenty of cool overcast days, and some thoroughly miserable windy days. But the rain has also kept the frosts mostly at bay, and this means the grass is still growing, albeit slowly. The cattle all seem to have recovered from the curse of Mavis (https://rockfarming.com/2021/07/10/curse-of-mavis-mange-mite/), and the cows are definitely starting to look uncomfortable with their growing bellies.

Regular readers will be aware I decided to hold last spring’s calves over winter. I have been using a couple of tools to help me determine my strategy. The first is Farming Forecaster (https://farmingforecaster.com.au/). This tool, supported by Local Land Services and CSIRO examines soil moisture profiles at numerous sites. All the sites near the Rock Farm show we are in an exceptional season, with unusually high pasture growth forecast for spring. Whilst most of the sites nearby run merino sheep, there are useful graphs on forecast livestock weight. The model predicts steady increases in stock weight until around the first week in August before a steady decline, associated with lambing.

Farming Forecaster estimates our pasture is growing at around 4-5 kg/ha/day – which is not enough to feed all my hungry mouths entirely. To help me determine the balance required, I use the Local Land Services “Drought and Supplementary Feed Calculator“(DAFSC) app (https://www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/animals-and-livestock/nutrition/feeding-practices/drought-and-supplementary-feed-calculator). This app takes into account the amount of pasture I estimate I have, and allows me to develop a ration to meet the nutritional requirements of the cattle. Practically this means it allows me to calculate how much hay I need to feed the cattle for them to maintain condition. My theory is, if I leave it long enough for me to recognise the cows have lost weight, I have left it too late.

These calculations have allowed me to more accurately determine my supplementary feed requirements. I am feeding out a small round bale of pasture hay to the cattle every couple of days. The cattle love the sound of the tractor starting up. Their antics as I try to work past them into the paddock to unroll the bales make me laugh. I had put a couple of bales on the back of the truck – to allow the family to roll out the hay if I wasn’t there to drive the tractor, but it was more effort than it was worth. Only the hound seemed to think it was a good idea!

The winter hasn’t been entirely incident free. On one of my daily checks the cattle came running up to me – to let me know the frost (or one of their friends) had knocked the float valve off the trough. Thankfully nothing was broken, and after going and getting a couple of tools and some fresh silicone tape, I was able to get their water flowing.

One of my favourite winter past times is the early morning walks on the Rock Farm. In the still morning fog, the dam takes on an other worldly feel. The crisp crunch of the frosty grass underfoot and the silent flight of a barn owl make such moments exhilarating. After checking on the cattle, it is lovely to retreat back to the warmth of the house for a morning cuppa and cuddle on the couch.

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