With July now behind us is seems that the winter has been very kind, staying mild with few frosts, and good growth being achieved on pastures thanks to the 51mm rain received in July. It's still not winter recharge but at least we are getting regular rain events of about 14mm a time. While it is helpful, the creeks are still not running so that puts it in perspective.
July is the month when we spray our Lucerne paddocks for weeds in preparation for maximising the Lucerne production during the growing season.
Ewes are now being feed barley straw on a paddock and then grazed on kale for a couple of hours a day. They seem very content with this, once the 12 fence pokers have culled themselves from the mob!
Hoggets have been scanned in July and produced a pleasing 124%, although 20% of the hoggets are dry. Analysis of Farm IQ data suggests that the most consistent result is achieved when they weigh at least 50kg liveweight when the ram goes out. Nevertheless it's interesting just how fertile and fecund some of the lighter animals are, although that is also where the highest number of drys are also.
Soil temperature at the end of July is 5.5 degrees.
As dryland farmers we seem to spend a lot of time talking about rainfall – especially when we are not getting enough. June was no exception – while it makes for easy wintering 24.5mm for the month does little for winter recharge but the continuing dry does make for excellent feed utilisation, minimising how much we need to feed to stock to keep them content.
At the start of June we weighed our weaner deer to see how their 1 June weight compared with previously years. We are very happy with the results. The works mob were 12% (7 kg) ahead of the previous season and the replacement mob were also 4kg heavier than the previous year. This sets us up well for spring slaughter of the works mob. The second mob of weaners is now also on kale and settles into the routine of Lucerne balage every second day, with the kale break shifted once a week.
June sees us pregnancy test the AI hinds and first calvers. The AI hinds are all in calf and most appear to taken early and therefore likely to be to the AI rather than a backup stag. The maiden hinds (rising first calvers) achieved 91% in fawn with only 7 dries. The result is very satisfactory but we are always keen to do better, especially as some of the dry first calvers have been bred from AI so have cost a lot of money to get to this point.
Pregnancy scanning of the ewes also took place in June. We had an exceptional result with MA ewes scanning 199%, 2th scanning 187% and there were only 10 dry ewes in total. Evidently others in the district have also had a good scanning, courtesy of the 135mm rain received in January. So now we have the potential to have a good lambing.
Ewes are rotated around cleaning up any residue on Lucerne paddocks in June. Hoggets are able to graze triticale paddocks but otherwise are being held in a paddock and feed Lucerne silage. We had hoped to start them on a paddock of greenfeed oats but unfortunately this magnificent (5,000kg DM) crop is high in nitrate. It’s a cruel irony that we can only look at this paddock as it killed one hogget on the first day’s grazing.
Well the rain has finally come – too little and too late for autumn growth, but it’s a start. We received 75mm in May over three separate events each of about 25mm. So a softening of the ground, a change of colour from brown to green and a chance to settle the dust that just got into everything with the relentless Nor-west wind in the middle of the month.
May saw us transition a mob of 270 hinds onto self-feed silage. This is something new for us and they adapted readily. Its noticeable how content they are – being able to feed whenever they want rather than having to rush for a feed when the tractor and bale feeder come into the paddock. It certainly saves labour and tractor hours as we are only pushing up the feeders every 3 days.
Two major farming activities took place this month. TB testing of the hinds and shearing of the sheep flock. Due to improvements in the management of TB control we only have to test our herd every two years but its still a full on morning when the unexpected can happen. The first day conditions were good for clipping on the neck and injecting, with only one stag escaping the yard. Three days later the animals are brought into the yards again to “read” – checking for a lump on the neck that may indicate the presence of Tuberculosis. The day they came in for a second time was extremely windy and wet, conditions were very slippery underfoot and the deer were on edge in the wind. Thankfully we got through without too much incident and only 1% “reacted” to the test. These we will retest.
Shearing took place in the last week of May – between showers, thank goodness for covered yards! As always we are keenly looking to see the body condition of the animals out of the wool. Mel, our farm manager proclaims to being satisfied with how they look. Shearing is very much a family affair with Eldon penning up the sheep, Delaney learning how to throw fleeces onto the wool table for skirting. Millie was busy cooking for the shearers and even helped out as a shed hand on the first run of the second day.
With no autumn rain until May we did not have any pasture cover to be able to apply autumn fertiliser to, and now it's too cold to do so. While the animals are on feed crops or silage over the winter we will be relying on building up some cover on the permanent pastures set us up for the spring.
Our new Taege drill has been cleaned out and out away for the season. Hopefully we will get some good winter rains to recharge the soil moisture so that we can begin renewing pastures in the spring.
It just gets drier…with only 14.5mm rain in April things are now looking desperate as we head towards winter.
Nights are noticeably cooler and there is a dew on the ground and a freshness in the morning but with no moisture in the soils things just simply do not grow. Grain and palm kernel has been purchased once more as supplementary feed and we have fed over 200 bales of balage already.
Our farming system that worked for the past 10 years is not working now. However, stock are doing well in the dry with hogget’s going to the ram at 56.6kg in mid-April and weaner deer still growing at 280 grams/day through March. This now puts them at 71.5kg live weight already, about 10 kg ahead of last year. However, we are 700 stock units down on previous years.
A venison supply contract put out by the Alliance group for early spring is a great boost to confidence and renews the intention to feed the weaners as well as possible to get animals to this specification. We have now put one mob of weaner deer on Kale and they have adapted readily to this.
April saw Puketira Deer host a Deer Industry Advance Party group (of which we are a member) to our property. It was a chance to show what we are trying to achieve and receive constructive feedback from the group as to how we could implement changes. It was a great afternoon and the enthusiasm of the group is infectious. Farmers learn from other farmers!
The heat in February proved to be too much and with only 33mm rain in February and 23mm in March things have dried up again. We are not panicking yet as we expect it to get dry in March just so long as we get autumn rains by early April. All deer have now been weaned and 75 2yr, 3yr and 4 yr hinds have been selected for this year’s AI programme. Both the 2yr and 3yr have not AI’ed in the previous year so it is a very young herd we are putting up this year – hoping to shorten the generation interval and increase the rate of genetic gain. The day arrives when we receive the DNA results back from this year’s fawns that were born to AI. A Deer Improvement stag called Ronaldo is a standout with 6 of the top 10 weaners. However, good old hind 05/114 still managed to produce the second heaviest weaner.
The last of our works lambs (bred from hogget’s) were killed early March at 20.45kg carcase weight – a very pleasing result given they were to small to do anything with when weaned in early December.
The ewes have done terrifically well following the rain in January, mixed age ewes went to the ram at 74.7kg at the end of March and 2ths weighed 67.3. It will be interesting to see how they scan.
After the welcome rains in January February turned out to be a very hot month. We were able to cut 20 hectares of lucerne for silage which we have made into a stack to feed some weaner deer on this winter. It should be very high quality, rocket fuel!
Stock performance was exceptional in February with the heat and feed. Weaner deer grew at an average of 500 grams/day with one mob growing at 540 grams/day prior to weaning on 20 February.
After weaning the mixed age hinds were put in one mob out the back of the farm and had plenty of feed to go onto so we are hopeful that they will cycle early and be ready for the stag. We continued drilling paddocks of winter feed throughout February. Those drilled at the end of January all struck but the heat by the end of February had burnt much of it off again, or the weeds were more vigorous at establishing.
All sire stags have now been introduced to the hind mobs and we are very pleased that our yearling hinds average 114kg live weight.
It rained, and rained, and rained… from a famine to a feast in one month! First 53mm at the start of January, then a further 47mm in the middle of the month and 28.5 mm to finish the month off. Oh, and did I mention the showers in between times. In one month we have received 40% of our entire rainfall for the previous year. Now we can look for the year ahead with renewed hope of being able to feed our animals on pasture rather than supplementary feed.
The first lot of rain was sufficient to achieve the grain fill required on the cereal silage and we got a harvest ! – 20 ha into a stack, to be used for self- feeding the hinds in the winter.
We took delivery of a Taege 3m direct drill between showers and immediately set it to work drilling into bare paddocks. There is a lot to like with this drill, from the large seed and fertiliser bins, the narrow coulter spacing, the angle that the tynes enter the ground, the seed calibration system that is so accurate and can be done from the cab, and finally the finger tynes that cover the ground after the seed has been sown. With 50 hectares to sow this autumn and a further 50 hectares for the spring this drill will soon pay its way.
As the feed comes away, in particular the lucerne very quickly, it's great to see all animals being fully fed. Hinds and their fawns reclining in the paddocks at ease with their lot. As the month draws to a close we can see a surplus of lucerne building up, a chance to make some supplement soon and refill the barns or silage pits. We were pleased to be able to put away the grain feeders in the middle of January. Ewes have come off their feedlot and grazing pasture again. We start tagging the first mobs of deer fawns at the end of the month. Although still quite small we can estimate from their weight at tagging that they have been growing at about 650 grams/day since birth late November/early December. Pleasingly losses at birth have been minimal and hinds are generally in good condition.
The Nor-west conditions have continued into December with only 4mm of rain for the month. Can it get much worse? Its now 18 months since our last significant rain.
The sheep have now been locked onto one paddock and are fed a daily ration of balage and barley grain with ad-lib access to barley straw. It takes a bit to get them used to staying in one paddock, the fences are challenged on several occasions until we are able to keep them stock proof.
The hinds have all fawned now but quality feed has gone so we are supplementing all mobs with grain. Did you know a mob of 80 hinds can empty an Advantage Grain Feeder in a couple of days? However we are only filling them once a week. Suffice to say we have to purchase another unit load of barley, the price is getting cheaper now as grain farmers want to empty their silos before the start of the next season. Dairy farmers are not seeking so much grain due to the low payout so it is easier to procure. We have also managed to secure 180 bales of balage off farm so that will keep our stock going until the autumn. If it hasn’t rained by the end of March we will have to further reduce stock numbers by selling all the fawns at weaning, something we have never done in the past.
We wean the hogget lambs in early and mid December again one month earlier than usual as we want to give the hoggets are chance to try and pick up condition after weaning. We are very pleased at the weight of their lambs – 50% of the ram lambs going at 16.72 kg, and 75% of the ewe lambs being retained to build up the numbers in our ewe replacement mob. This only leaves 100 smaller hogget lambs which we will try to grow on if feed permits.
All ewe lambs are on a lucerne paddock and have been growing well since being weaned a month ago. The hot dry weather seems to suit them, but is a fine line between stock doing well, and running out of feed. As Christmas approaches there are some very hot days.
I continue to look at the cereal silage crops struggling to come to achieve grain fill due to the lack of moisture. I feel certain I should have taken them as “green” chop at the start of December and at least got something.
Well things just aren’t getting any better with only 21mm rain in November and relentless Nor-West winds.
It is now evident that we will not have sufficient feed to carry ewes and lambs through to weaning at the end of the month and a decision is made to wean them early. Anything that is not killable will need to go as a store lamb. Early indications are that we might get $2.50/kg liveweight for store lambs but starts to drop quickly as every one in North Canterbury also comes to the realisation that they will need to quit stock early as well.
Singles are drafted on the 3rd November at 8 weeks of age, dressing out at 18kg carcase weight. Twins are drafted two weeks later in mid November and kill at 16kg carcase weight. Approximately 20% of our lambs are sold at stores for $2.40/kg liveweight. With all our lambs from the ewes now gone, apart from 200 ewe lambs for replacements, we have averaged $82/head compared with $98/hd the previous year so are back 16% on value.
November is the month when our hinds start fawning but there is little evidence of this until late in the month – some of the earliest ones appear to be the AI mob which we knew would start fawning on 20 November. It seems that even the hinds were holding back, or maybe the autumn had been just too tough and they had been late to get in fawn.
With the dry conditions a decision is made to kill some of our replacement yearling hinds – with 104 of the lighter ones killed in mid November at 48kg carcass weight. This is a very pleasing result in a year like this, growth rates have been very good.
We have drilled 13ha of kale into sprayed out paddocks for winter feed and hope for the best.
What a busy month is has been. It started off looking very encouraging, then the winds came and it blew Nor-west for two weeks. All of a sudden the spring peak had gone and we were faced with rapidly declining feed position. One mob of 108 ewes with 199 lambs at foot is sold and we are able to send 190 yearling deer to the works at good weights at the height of the schedule. This is very pleasing as we have worked really hard all autumn, winter and early spring to ensure that these deer do come up to weight in time to meet the chilled market. These deer were growing at 467 grams/day during October with some of the better yearling hinds growing at 700gms/day! Its been great year for spiker velvet and this has generated a further 50 cents/kg on every kg of venison sold in October, putting our return to $9.25/kg for spring venison.
In the midst of it all we even have a small feed surplus and are able to take 11 ha of Lucerne for balage – yielding 52% dry matter. Who knows, this may be the only feed we get to conserve this season as the cereal triticale and barley are really struggling from a lack of moisture.
The 26th of October sees the hinds all set stocked on their fawning blocks, including 31 maiden hinds that did get in fawn despite the dry autumn conditions. Now we will eagerly await for the appearance of the first fawns, normally by the end of the first week in November. Hinds numbers are back from 530 to 367 hinds due to the drought last autumn. However, with the way this season is shaping up 367 may be quite enough.
The news is all talk of an El Nino summer – and what that might mean for farmers. The reality is we are already in the midst of it and having to make early decisions. The end of November will be our next key date – with all lambs needing to be weaned from ewes and those that are not able to go off as prime lambs will need to go immediately as store lambs. This will not be a season to carry stock on.