Another month has flown by and here is the May edition of the newsletter. It has been unseasonably warm and dry so far. Those foggy mornings that were creeping in at the end of April are turning into gloriously sunny 20-degree days and there have been some beautiful sunsets in the evenings.
Weather and Cattle Prices
A good autumn break in March and April led to a rapid greening up on the property. However since then conditions have been dryer than average with only 28.2mm of rain vs a mean of 51.5mm for May. These trends have been seen throughout Victoria and Southern NSW. Queensland and Northern NSW are already in drought.
The long range forecast is also indicating a greater than average likelihood of an El Nino later in the year (as early as July) with the consequential impact that will have on growing conditions. As a result the eastern young cattle indicator has been trending down and destocking is taking place throughout Eastern Australia.
As we have adequate fodder on the property and are understocked we have taken the chance of acquiring additional livestock to grow the business. We are also stockpiling what hay we have in case we need to feed out more in summer.
Earlier in the month we saw the arrival of Gill-eóin (also known as #themostanticipatedcalf) of Scorrybreck. This is our first heifer calf born to Aileene and Blackadder of Arrandoon and has been named after Gill (Rachael’s Mum). Unfortunately Aileene developed Mastitis in one quarter of her udder. This is an inflammation of the mammary gland and udder tissue that is often caused by a bacterial invasion of the teat canal. It can have a long lasting impact on the milk productivity of the cow for this and future calves. If not treated it may cause the death of the afflicted cow. The treatment takes two parts, in the first instance an anti-inflammatory medication and antibiotic was given by the vet. In addition we would milk out the infected quarter each day for a week and give the cow a dose of antibiotics. Amazingly Aileene is much calmer from the back end than the front (see this previous post), although James did get weed on once or twice!
Mastitis is more of a problem for dairy herds than beef cattle for a number of reasons, it is often spread within the herd by the milking equipment if poor hygiene is present, and flies can also spread it if the weather is warm enough.
Last year’s breeding was somewhat spread out after the arrival of four unexpected calves, so we decided to call out the vet to preg test the remaining cattle to see how far along they were. We are now expecting one more calf in June, with the remainder expecting to calve from September through to December. Whilst the vet was on site we also dehorned three steers.
May also saw the arrival of a brand new cattle breed to the farm. We purchased four Belted Galloways; a cow with a calf at foot and two heifers. Meet Humbug, Liquorice, Sambuca and Scarlet! They are settling in well to the farm and have a whole paddock to themselves at the moment.
Our aim on the farm is to run a stud Highland Cattle fold producing heifers and bulls for us and other breeders as well as a commercial fold producing crossbreed cattle for the beef industry. Belted Galloways are double coated like the Highlands and also have good maternal characteristics. By crossing a Highland bull over a Belted Galloway cow we hope to produce a medium sized double coated animal which should still have excellent maternal characteristics, but additional hybrid vigor. We are also intending to get a number of Murray Grey cattle to trial them in the same system. Both the Belted Galloway and Murray Grey cattle are homozygous polled, so all calves will be born without horns which is an advantage in a commercial animal and preferable with the abattoir. We have already seen the advantages of crossbreeds with the Highland Hereford cross steer we have.
Meanwhile James’ brother John returned briefly from Scotland to visit the family. He has been out with Rachael and Mabelline, a little 6 month old heifer that was orphaned this summer. They have been looking at animal behavior and working with getting Mabelline comfortable with being groomed and handled. This progressed very well and she now loves to have a good brush.
It’s amazing how a little rain can cause weeds on the farm to go wild. Our main target is Boxthorn – a particularly hardy broadleaf bush with bright red berries and long thorns. This is spread by birds and is often found underneath trees and along fence lines. Our plan to eradicate and control it is by spraying the bush with special broadleaf poisons. These also work well for other weeds such as thistles and deadly nightshade that we are also seeing creeping in. We see rapid success in wilting and dying of the weeds, but this time of year makes spraying difficult due to damp mornings and windy afternoons.
Some of our hot-tape gates are starting to look a little worn and after the bulls destroyed one to get into the adjacent paddock, we have invested in some new gate tapes. These are much wider than the old style string ones and the cattle have been avoiding them. Rachael also drained and fixed up a water trough that had a hairline crack near the top and had been leaking for some time. A quick drying cement filler was spread into the cleaned out crack and seems to have bonded well. We still have to adjust the ballcock to reduce the filling level, but as the paddock is currently unused we are letting the bottom dry out to remove any aquatic weeds that have been growing.
The Look Ahead
So next month we are looking forward to the arrival of another calf and hopefully more rain. We are also very excited for our friends who are expecting a baby. Rachael has been crafting a little farm surprise for them – and here is a sneak preview below!
Watch this space for more news from the farm.
-Rachael & James