Tuesday, 30 August 2011
By Rebecca Glover
It’s midwinter: cold and wet, with mud everywhere. Days are short and nights are long, not to mention dark and stormy – the favourite time for cows to decide to calve.
| Spring calving is well underway. Photo supplied. |
It’s that time of year when dairy farmers’ brief respite from the milking shed is ended by the start of what is optimistically termed ‘spring calving’ (yeah, right!)
Pity the poor cow cocky as he or she struggles out of bed at the sort of time party revellers are just heading for theirs, to bring in the herd for milking and to gather up the night’s drop of calves.
With luck and good planning, there will be no downer cows and plenty of heifer calves for replacements.
As the milk spurts into the vat there’s the cheering thought that this year it is liquid gold. But while dairy farms may be doing very nicely at the moment, thank you, the spectre of past low payouts remains.
Recent misinformation on farmers’ income and tax fails to take into account the uncontrollable vagaries of the weather and exchange rates, let alone the huge expenses involved in the day to day running of a dairy farm.
Constant pressure to increase production has seen the average size of herds steadily increase, from 322 five years ago to approaching 400 today.
At the same time the number of herds nationally has declined, leading to new management challenges and an increase in corporate ownership. The traditional pathway of contract milking, lower order sharemilking to 50/50, and then farm ownership has been drastically altered.
Often in the past, the aim of sharemilking families was to graduate to an easier life farming sheep and beef, but continued bright dairy prospects have proved a greater drawcard and kept many in the industry.
Despite growing corporatisation, dairy farming remains heavily reliant on family involvement. Peak times such as calving require all hands on deck, and while one partner is milking, the other often has the job of rearing the calves.
Usually this time-consuming and frequently frustrating task falls to the female partner (no monthly days off there, ladies!) who comes as part of the package deal known as a ‘married couple’. Growing up on a farm provides a great life for children, many of whom are currently choosing that special calf for upcoming school calf club days. For those who can’t pick a choice replacement heifer on-farm, there’s the Tuakau saleyards, where bidders are happy to dig deep for well marked animals to be pampered and primped to look their best, come October.