Farming through the ups and downs – John van der Goes

For those who thought I had disappeared off the face of the earth I am still here, just turned into a bit of a hermit. I thought I had better update you on what’s been happening.

Things have been plodding along since I last wrote. Seems like all I’ve done is the basic things that need doing every day. Milking, feeding cows, and the seasonal stuff – making silage, mating etc. The type of stuff we do every day and don’t see as having done anything.

Spring seemed to be a real challenge this year with all the rain we had. Trying to get jobs done, like getting the rest of the fodder beet planted and silage made, was a real battle. Meanwhile, the cows, who were just starting to hit their straps at 2.2 kg a day, crashed to 1.8. They seemed to be getting enough grass but just couldn’t produce on it. I was talking to a friend who said they heard from another farmer who tested his grass that the ME was only 8 during that time. No wonder they didn’t fire on it. We ended up being down about 2000 kg solids on last year.

As we moved further into spring the farm turned more and more yellow with buttercup. I have now decided to make it next year’s priority to spray the farm to try and get rid of it. I’m sure that it will take more than one year. But I’m determined to start. I will also have a go at the Californian thistles. The aim is to grow more grass and less weeds.


Mating came and went without too much drama and the usual results. We started five days earlier and still hit our targets about a day after we were supposed to. I’m quite happy with that and it looks like the empty rate is about the same, 9% so far and they are gone now. We’re going to only do one whole herd pregnancy test in mid-July this year so will pick up the surprise cows then.

My big plan to make only quality silage this year has failed miserably. Every time I thought it was just about ready the weather would crap out and by the time I got to make it it was past it. So I consoled myself by saying I needed fibre to go with the fodder beet. This year we baled all the silage which seemed to work well. One of our neighbours has a one-man band trucking company and he carted the bales for us. He’s a really easy guy to work with so we will be using him again. We ended up having 200 bales at home with another 90 at the runoff. Some of those can come home if needed.


We never managed to get a holiday between calving and mating this year so we went away for week not long before Christmas. On our first full day Cathy managed to fall over and hurt her foot. When she went to the doctor after Christmas she found out she had broken 3 bones in her foot. She was told not to put weight on it for four weeks. This meant that it was all up to me as far as farm work went. Consequently, quite a few things haven’t been done. Weeds being the major one. The upside is the enforced sitting has meant that we now have a health and safety plan. And are probably close to being compliant.

We made the decision to go on once a day a few days early this year as I was doing the last of the silage, as well as everything else, and getting a bit frazzled. The idea was to give me more time to get things done. It hasn’t really worked out all that well as feeding out and fodder beet have taken up more time. We started the fodder beet as planned in early January. I have been really pleased with the result. We are milking more cows and have nearly caught up the production we lost in the spring. The cows are getting about 8 kg DM from fodder beet, 2 kg meal, 2.5 kg silage, plus whatever grass is in the paddock. They seem to be quite happy with their lot.

Although there have been very few cases of mastitis this year the cell count has been all over the place. Ranging from below 100,000 to 355,000. I got sick of it so I decided to check individual quarters on the high count cows identified by the herd test with a RMT test. I found that it was six quarters that were causing all the problems. I then got samples from each quarter and had them tested to see what sort of bugs we were dealing with. Turned out they were all Strep. so could be cured with dry cow when the cows are dry. To keep the cell count in check I thought I would use a quarter milker on the infected quarters and milk the rest normally. It’s a bit of a pain but means a better cell count. I did think of culling them but when I checked their history I found that last year their counts were all below 100,000 so it is worth trying to clear them up over the dry period.


One of the success stories of this season is changing the size of our milk droppers. The foaming problem has all but gone making milking easier when the cows are in full milk.


During his holidays my brother came down and managed to get a few little jobs done that have been waiting for a while. One of them was to build a new mounting pole for the cow brush. The cows knocked the brush over about 18 months ago. We put it back up and I thought that it may take a few days for them to get used to it. I was wrong, they must have remembered it and got straight into using it on the first day.


Looks like things are looking up as we have had 80mm of rain and the brown landscape is turning green. Hopefully this is the start of things to come and we have a good autumn grass wise. Hope everybody has had the same.

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