Waiting for rain – Graham Smith

The way things are going it is going to be a long summer. Feels like it started last November! My rainfall records show last year as the third driest on record, with annual rain 300 mm below the average. Going back to 1992 my records show a year like this about every 10 years on average. Production is still at 1.12 solids per cow per day. I have destocked by culling all the empties, plus one slack-uddered, grumpy cow. I scanned the cows mid- January for an 87% 6 week in calf rate, which of course gave me an empty rate of 13%. All things considered I feel that is very good on 6 weeks of mating.

Feeding the girls in this weather has required more PKE than normal. It has been fed at 4 kg per day, a 30% blend with soy hulls. Production is 14% behind last year, so the extra pay-out will be appreciated. I have been holding off on feeding silage due to there being less in the pit than normal, but the day is looming quickly. A 36-day round is allowing for a little growth, with the last readout showing 5 kg/ha/day. The greenest paddocks are those with the most densely planted trees, because of the shading effect stopping the grass from being exposed to the sun all day.

The trees also provide extra feed at this time of year when I do my annual pruning. I wait until the cows are in the paddock then prune some, or all, of them, depending on tree density. This has deferred silage feeding and has tidied up a lot of extra growth. I prune using a pole saw. These have a reach of up to 8 metres and only cut as you draw the saw back. This makes it reasonably safe standing on the ground and being able to dodge the branches coming down. I tend to prune one side of the tree on a fence line so that I don’t have to throw branches over the fence to the cows. The other side will be done when the cows go into the paddock on the other side of the fence. At that height windy days can be a problem, causing jam ups of the blade as the branches twist. Fortunately, I have three saws so one can be used to rescue the other. The saws have extruded aluminium poles and locking pins so I can continually adjust the height required. The blades are made of hardened steel and once blunt need to be replaced, as the type of steel means they can’t be sharpened. Each blade is approximately $100 to replace.

You can get American-made Barnell pole saws at horticentres and they come in a variety of extendable sizes. These are a reasonable price and there is a good part replacement service.

The other sort I use are the Japanese Silky range, which are more expensive but of very high quality. One of their line even has resharpenable blades which is an advantage. I get these from Levin Sawmakers who have the full range. I also have a small handsaw from Silky that I carry on my belt to do smaller jobs. You don’t want your non sawing hand anywhere near these blades as they are extremely sharp as I found to my cost, when it went through a branch and tried to remove my thumb as well!!

The third brand I use is White Horse ( Baek Ma ) a South Korean product. I’m using their pole saw at the moment because it has the newest blade.

Overall, they all do a good job and which one you choose will be guided by the size you want, the availability and the price.

I must be careful when pruning due to the cows pushing up to be first to the leaves, it only takes one bully to push a cow towards you and you are at risk of being crushed. The cows love every part of a Paulownia and will eat all the leaves and the branches down to finger size (see a video of Graham’s cows at work on Paulownia prunings). When those run out, they start on the bark and are very skillful at removing every last piece of bark. All that is left are the larger branches which I push up and cart away for burning. I like to prune up to 8 metres because that lets the sun in under the tree. I have found that the grass remains palatable up to the trunk of the tree. With high pruning, as the sun moves so does the shade and the cows move with it. That removes the chance of dead areas under the trees due to trampling. The high prune also allows wind flow which stops the build-up of eczema spores.

But farming can’t be all work and I was able to get away to Whitianga for the Waterways concert. It was great to see George Thorogood and Billy Idol live. The weather was fine, too fine, it was very hot and 9 hours in the sun was hard work. The day prior to the concert we were lucky to be invited out sailing on Mercury Bay. We went to the marine reserve and with a little burley we had big snapper feeding beside the yacht. A very enjoyable day out. Getting home on the Monday was as bad as being in Auckland with traffic jammed up at Tairua and Kopu.

Last week we got away again to see Cold Chisel in concert at Tauranga, an excellent concert with more agreeable temperatures.

In the meantime, we await the rain, and a welcome respite from heat and dust.


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