Rural round-up

July 31, 2011

Owen Glenn: use science to be innovative:

In the second of a series leading up to the election, Owen Glenn says exporters’ form matters even more than the All Blacks’.

Every four years, rugby puts New Zealand on the world stage. Our exporters do the same every day.

Unlike the All Blacks, when exporters aren’t playing to their full potential, the whole country loses.

With two out of three jobs dependent on it and $4 of every $10 our economy produces generated by it, exporting matters. . .

Lonely bull still waiting for rescue – Kathy Marks:

When Victoria was hit by catastrophic floods in January, a bull named Bernard sought refuge on an island in the middle of a lake.

Six months later, he’s still stranded and his owner is appealing for help to reunite the increasingly bad-tempered animal with his herd. . .

8% rise in lamb numbers forecast – Sally Rae:

Reasonable conditions this lambing should see a rise in the total number of lambs by 2 million – up 8% – pushing export lamb production back towards 20.5 million head in 2011-12.

Export lamb production in 2010-11 was expected to finish at about 19 million head, down 11% on the previous season, according to the ANZ Agri-Focus report for July . . .

Researcher seeks tonic in pasture – Sally Rae:

It is a long way from managing a farm in the UK to being a research fellow in Dunedin – but Dr Marion Johnson has led an interesting life.

Dr Johnson, who grew up in Zambia, the UK and New Zealand, initially studied agriculture at Massey University.

She worked as a shepherd around the Wairarapa before shepherding on hill farms in Wales and Scotland . . .

Feeding out made easier – Sally Rae:

Dave McCabe, a North Otago contractor and farmer, has devised a method of pulling strings from bales on feed-out wagons that saves time and machinery.

Previously, he used a loader to pull out the strings. . .

Collaboration succeeding – John Aspinall:

Prior to 1987, most Crown-owned land in New Zealand was managed by the Lands and Survey Department (L&S).

In 1987, L&S was restructured into the Department of Conservation (Doc), Landcorp and Forestcorp. Most of the commercial-minded senior management people went to Landcorp and Forestcorp.

Doc gained practical hands-on field staff, but many of their management people took a very idealistic view that they would save the environment and could do it alone . . .

Farmers’ web portal winner:

AG-HUB, an agriculture web portal for farmers, has been awarded the Telecommunications Users’ Association of New Zealand (Tuanz) “best of the best” prize at its 2011 innovations awards.

Ag-Hub captured information from on-farm recording devices such as feed readers, effluent irrigators, moisture tapes and weather stations. . .

Fascinating new pastures for dairy cows thanks to innovative farmers – Pasture to Profit:

Many pasture based dairy farmers in both France & the UK are experimenting with mixed pasture swards. These “New Pastures” always include an abundance of clovers & increasingly include herbs such as Chicory & Plantain. The inclusion of the deep rooting herbs adds a completely new dimension to pastures for grazing dairy cows.

These pastures are very different from conventional pastures in many ways. Nitrogen fed pastures tend to be monocultures of ryegrasses. Well managed ryegrass clover pastures are highly productive. The clover content is related to the grazing intensity & the amount of nitrogen used. The mixed pastures offer considerable biodiversity, interesting possible changes to the cows diet, generally higher protein levels but more complex grazing properties. In mixed species pastures some plants are grazed out & its difficult to graze according to every plant’s requirements. However these new pastures might well enhance the health benefits of grass fed milk . . .

Alpaca breeders get serious about business – Jon Morgan:

Peter McKay gives a demonstration of the mating ritual of the alpaca. It’s not what you think. The Hawke’s Bay farmer tilts back his head, opens his throat and goes “orgleorgleorgleorgle”.

This rumbling gargle is the male alpaca’s foreplay. It starts the female ovulating. Mr McKay and wife Tessa have 160 alpacas on their 235-hectare sheep and beef farm at Maraekakaho.

Mrs McKay tells what happens next. “They mate sitting down. It’s called a cush,” she says. “Then we wait two weeks to see if she is pregnant. If she goes into the cush for him, it didn’t work the first time. If she spits at him, it did.” . . .

Wine moguls thrive in hard year – Michael Berry:

Most Marlborough-linked wine magnates listed in this year’s National Business Review Rich List managed to increase their wealth in a tough year for the wine industry.

Siblings Jim and Rosmari Delegat, owners of Oyster Bay Vineyards Marlborough and who own much of the NZX-listed Delegat’s Wine Estate dropped to 39th this year, while increasing their net worth by $35 million to $150m . . .

Record rebate for Ballance Farmers:

Ballance Agri-Nutrients will pay shareholders a record rebate and dividend of $50.29 per tonne after achieving an $85.9 million operating profit for the 2010/11 financial year, more than four times the $20.7 million achieved in the prior year.

The total average payment to shareholders of $50.29 per tonne includes a rebate of $46 per tonne on fertiliser purchased and an imputed dividend of $0.10 per share, resulting in a total distribution to shareholders of $49 million. Ballance’s rebate payment is calculated based on both the quantity and the value of the product purchased. This means that farmers who have purchased higher-value products such as DAP, triple superphosphate or potash will receive a rebate and dividend in excess of $62 per tonne, with urea returning a rebate of over $54 per tonne. . .

Sheep: barnyard brainiacs

It turns out that sheep are far more intelligent than their reputation for barnyard slowness would lead one to believe. In recent research published in PLoS ONE1, Professor Jenny Morton of the Department of Pharmacology at the University of Cambridge and her colleague Laura Avanzo reported that domestic sheep can perform extremely well on tests of designed to measure cognitive abilities, possibly as well as any animal other than primates.

Professor Morton, who had been studying Huntington’s disease, wanted to find out whether transgenic sheep with a specific genetic defect might be useful in preclinical research regarding potential treatments for this neurodegenerative disease. Because Huntington’s is characterized by cognitive deterioration, Morton was particularly interested in seeing how well sheep would perform cognitively, since suitable research subjects for neurologic disorders like Huntington’s inevitably must undergo systematic cognitive testing relevant to the disease. . .

Hat Tip: Tim Worstall


For carnivores only

July 7, 2009

One of things my farmer likes to do when we’re in other places is check out the prices, cuts, quality and variety of meat.

At Barcelona’s Mercat de la Boqueria we found lamb legs  for 8.90 euros a kilo which is about $NZ20.

 

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These are the equivelent of our alpha grade lambs.

They are killed on weaning either because there isn’t enough feed to sustain ewes and lambs over summer or because the ewes are primarily for milking not meat.

This makes the meat sweeter than we’re used to.

There were also rabbits:

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I couldn’t bring myself to take a photo of the tripe, but did capture this:

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That’s sheep’s heads on the right and beside them are bulls’ testicles.


Porn in the Paddock

June 28, 2008

Most city people who move to the country adapt well, but there are always the odd exceptions who can’t, or won’t, understand that agriculture and horticulture are not nine to five businesses; and that necessary activites aren’t always quiet and sweet smelling.

City slickers considering a quieter life in the country be warned: farmers are not going to stop their early morning milking or their dogs from barking so you can get a good night’s sleep.

And some daytime farming practices aren’t exactly seemly:

Waikato Federated Farmers president Stew Wadey said he had fielded a number of complaints from newcomers unused to the smells, sounds and sights in the country.

“We’ve had a straight-laced person from higher society move into a lifestyle block and she was appalled that we had a bull servicing the cows, which is obviously a natural process. She complained it was provocative and pornographic.”


Good Pay Out Takes 13 Seasons

June 12, 2008

Mabel Howard is credited with the observation that there’s only one good job on a dairy farm and the bull’s got it. It was delivered during a parliamentary debate on the sorry lot of farm workers, but many sheep farmers have quoted her words to prove the superiority of their calling.

 

At least they used to, but as we’ve watched returns for meat and wool fall while milk prices stayed stable then rose, more than few of us reconsidered our opinion of dairying. Thirty years ago the Lower Waitaki Valley supported 10,000 sheep, today more than 40,000 dairy cows graze the same paddocks. My farmer was among those long established North Otago sheep and beef men who watched the invasion and began to wonder if there was more to life than meat and wool.

 

The calculator came out, experts were consulted, discussions took place, options were investigated, heads were scratched, conclusions were drawn and the decision was made: we’d stick to sheep. Time passed, more calculations were made, other options were investigated, experts were consulted again, further discussions took place, different conclusions were drawn and the decision was revised: we’d convert part of our farm to dairying.

 

That was the start of a very steep learning curve and one of the first things I learnt was that the bull’s job is no longer as important on a modern dairy farm, at least not in person (or should that be in animal?). Instead of putting the bull out and letting nature take its course, farmers now choose their sires from a catalogue and order straws of semen. This means the relationship between the cow and her mate is at arm’s length – the arm in this case being that of the artificial insemination technician.

 

The next thing I learnt was that building a diary shed is similar to building a house in that it always takes longer and inevitably costs more than expected. The site was supposed to be cleared in January but work didn’t start until April. Soon there were men everywhere – digging holes, delivering concrete, building and upgrading farm tracks to the standard the diary company demands for its tankers, and all needing to be paid.

 

In the middle of all these men was my farmer, writing cheques and wondering what he’d let himself in for while I kept strictly to my role of uninformed observer because the most important thing I learnt about dairy farming was just how demanding a life it was. Wool doesn’t go off if it’s not shorn today and, crisis situations like droughts excepted, there’s usually some leeway when sending lambs away; but cows have to be milked twice a day, every day from August to late May.

 

It didn’t help that the shed wasn’t finished when the first calves were born and while monthly milk payments made a pleasant change from the once or twice yearly cheques from meat and wool, the money coming in didn’t stretch to cover the bills that followed. Conversion is an expensive business and the costs didn’t stop there. Our advisors suggested the dairy unit would be more economic if we increased our herd from the initial 400 cows to 600. That in turn meant we needed more irrigation which necessitated building a dam.

 

Then we got tuberculosis and had to slaughter any cow which reacted to tests in case she was infected. The Animal Health Board pays for the cows but there is no compensation for the lost production. The tests aren’t 100 percent reliable and the cow carrying the disease which was infecting our herd was only discovered by accident a couple of years later when she dried herself off and was sent to the freezing works where they found her lungs riddled with the disease.

 

We regained our TB-free status but then struck a drought and ran out of water for irrigation so had to dry the cows off early. This spurred us to increase the irrigation which cost more and the increased herd numbers necessitated a second dairy shed and more staff which in turn led to the need for more accommodation. A further boost in cow numbers last year required more labour and another new house.

 

But at least this season the increase is production was rewarded by an increase in the payout. Not surprisingly that was followed by an increase in costs as the price of fertiliser, fuel, power, calf feed, silage, and wages went up too. However, in spite of all that it looks like, after 13 seasons, this will at last be the year when the really good job on the dairy farm is banking the money.

 


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