GrassFed in the city

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Where can I shift them to next?!

Man it’s dry out there.  One of the interesting, challenging, and scary things about farming is that there is just so much stuff we have no control over.  One of the biggest variables we deal with here in the North is the amount of rain in any given month.  We can take care of the health and fertility of our soil, we can manage how we graze our ‘plants’ with holistic rotation planning, but as anyone with a vege garden (or even a pot plant) will know, if that plant don’t get water, that plant don’t grow!

Farming at its most simplest is growing pasture and then converting it into protein.  We are really grass farmers – one of our main jobs is to grow as much high quality grass as we can.  Plenty of good pasture is always going to be a top priority for the well-being of a healthy cattle beast or sheep – Vitamin ‘G’ for grass.

I’m not going to get into the pro’s and con’s of irrigation in other parts of the country.  However if you take a walk in our crop paddock, the only part that’s green is where we had a broken water pipe a few weeks ago.  And it can’t help but make me think about how nice it would be to put sprinklers around our farm and have all our paddocks looking like that right now…. (picture)

Because, despite looking fairly green from the road, when you get up amongst it on the farm, underneath the stalk is bare and brown.

Drought Jan 2017.JPG

A little rain would make a big difference!

Now, if we knew that every January the 18th it would look like this, we could plan for it, and match our stocking rate to pasture availability.  But every January the 18th looks different.  Unfortunately, understocking our property isn’t the answer either.  Pasture loses palatability and nutritional benefits if it gets too long, and its not economical to have too much pasture not being eaten (Well it might be economical if you have no mortgage and a handy off-farm income!).  So one of a farmer’s jobs is balancing the delicate line of having enough pasture vs enough animals all throughout the year.

Measuring the amount of dry matter in a paddock (calories) with a sward stick, and matching it against the daily energy requirements of individual animals is invaluable in calculating feed demand versus availability, however, I don’t even know how to begin to calculate it looking at our paddocks at the moment.


So, prioritising which stock are going to get the best bits of grass left is certainly a bit of a challenge this summer.  We had a ram buyer come down from Taipa on the weekend – they are so dry up there that he had to make the decision to buy in feed for his cattle.  Interestingly he chose palm kernel to keep his weaners going until it rains.  I reserve the right to change my mind, however palm kernal is the waste product left after palm kernal is extracted.  Palm oil goes into pretty much everything NZders buy – shampoo, conditioner, chocolate, breakfast cereals and mascara.  Awesome you if you actively make sure that none of the cosmetics, detergents or food you use contains palm oil (note that it is quite legal to just call it vegetable oil too on ingredients lists).

If palm kernal wasn’t fed to animals, it would be burnt, and that would cause an environmental impact of its own, so whilst I don’t like the idea of importing feed  from another part of the world, I think there are other environmental impacts that are of a higher priority.  However, I think that a 100% grass fed animal is healthier and better for the planet, so wouldn’t like to see grain/kernal fed to animals for anything but in a drought situation..

Our farm should get through without having to make those choices, however we will be keeping a close eye on how much pasture we have vs how much our animals need, and selling some one year old bulls is certainly an option on the table.

The other job we are doing at this time of the year is keeping up with the water supply.  We have troughed water going to almost all of our paddocks on the farm for stock water, with the water coming from our creek and from a bore.  Piped water in the summer heat means plenty of opportunities for pipes to split, pull apart etc.  Bulls are good at knocking the ball-cocks off the troughs, which causes the water to keep on running, even after that trough is full.  So “keeping an eye on the water”, “finding a leak”, and “fixing a leak” are common answers to what we are up to at this time of year.  And finding a leak can take all day – you know you’ve got no water, because the trough near the house is empty and there’s no water coming out of the pipe – but where the heck do you start to look on the farm?!

Still on water, I started to do an interesting calculation the other day.  We receive approximately 1300ml rainfall each year.  So this works out to be 130,000 litres of water per hectare.  Over our 600ha of pasture (so not including the forests or other land we don’t graze), that equals 78 million litres of rain that our farm receives and then transfers into groundwater, ponds, streams and rivers every year!  That’s a truckload of water (Roughly per ha, our sheep and cattle would drink maybe 30,000 of the 130,000 litres, the rest goes into the ground, into streams, or evaporates back up into the sky).  Now, if the rainfall came in nice even amounts, say 100ml a month, that would be great, and we’d have a nice even amount of pasture growing all year round (give or take the effects of temperature and sunshine on growth).  However, that’s not how our weather goes – instead we get about 1000ml over 4 months, and very little the rest of the time.  Can’t help but feel if we were able to store a little bit of that winter rain and then use it as ‘rainfall’ throughout the year, farming could become that little bit more predictable, and our stress levels would come down.  I certainly see that as a convincing argument for water storage, as long as it can ensure that the water requirements of our aquatic ecosystems are not compromised.

Cheers to a kiwi summer, and lets hope for some rain today!

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