March 2014 on the Farm
Current climates on the farm
The whole world has experienced exceptional weather over the last month - non-stop rain here and in the rest of Europe, a deep freeze in North America, drought in California and Australia and Brazil. Farmers around the world are reliant on the weather doing what it's always done, the seasons being in the right order, seed time and harvest at the right time. That was so important that our ancestors built Stonehenge to tell them the time of year, so they knew when to plant or harvest certain foods to survive. So what can we do when the weather is so extreme?
Clear up the damage, for one. Our 30 year old eucalyptus fell, all 88 feet of it, roots ripped from wet soil, just glancing at our fruit cage. Owls hoot less frequently - they hunt by sound, so wind and rain leave them hungry, maybe even starving. Our Farm Manager Adam informed me that our 10 year average for rainfall was 2.5 inches, last month alone we had 8 inches!
CROPS - It has been warm all winter, and the crops are growing, although their roots are waterlogged. March often gives us brisk easterly winds and dry conditions, but the crops need gentle dry breezes, to allow their roots to breathe and chase the water though the soil profile. We will feed the crops, which turns them from yellowing and straggly to green and thriving as if we've taken a paintbrush to them.
GRASS - We'll wave the same magic paintbrush over the grass, either with flood water (other people's nutrients), dilute slurry from our very full slurry lagoon (all the manure, whey, dairy washings and a lot of rain), or a bag. The cows went out later than usual on 2nd March, waiting for the floodwater to subside. We had to buy extra silage to feed animals before the grass grew. Now we wait for the 'magic day', when the grass growth is more than the cows can eat, we hope that comes by the end of March. Then we know spring is here.
COWS & YOUNGSTOCK - This was the first year we have out wintered the young stock and dry cows. This is part of us working to get ways of keeping our animals that are stable against whatever shocks the weather throws at us. The simpler the system, the more leeway you have.
The calves thrived on kale and silage, out all winter. They grew long woolly coats, and looked very happy. We move them every day, so no part of the field gets unduly damaged. That field will go into a spring crop, maize or spring barley later this month.
Their teenage sisters looked happy and equally woolly on our clover covered grass. Again, they move on daily, and the grass has recovered - they will go back to the beginning and eat what they grazed in early winter.
We have some cows due to calve in March, and their hibernation in constant mud has created well-toned pelvic floor muscles and healthy calves. The new calves are thick on the ground, bleating after milk, and will be out as soon as we know they are drinking well, starting their outdoor lives.