El Nino means El trouble

Already weather gurus are predicting an El Nino weather pattern to hit New Zealand this spring. Usually this means an early, long, dry summer but we have learnt enough from past El Nino patterns that surely we won’t be caught out again. Major lessons we have learnt from the past are that unprepared farmers don’t make the most out of the front end of the season and make considerably less out of the end of the season.

The 2005-06  and 2006-07 milk production seasons were record seasons, 2007-08 through to 2009-10 seasons were damn hard and farmers still talk about it to those who care to listen. 2010-11 and 2011-12 were record seasons again giving the impression that there may some sort of conspiracy here or at the very least a pattern is emerging.

This season has already seen higher than average soil temps, higher pasture growth and earlier calving patterns which in my mind is natures way of saying here you go make the most of it because it isn’t going to be plain sailing later this season. If you don’t make the most of the spring this year then Mother Nature can’t help you anymore and she will throw the usual curve balls such as drying westerly winds followed by insect damage amidst huge anticyclones just to test your determination.

In the good old days, which isn’t long ago, farmers concentrated on getting 70% of their milk production before Christmas. This means on a 200,000 kgms farm they would target 140,000 kgms by December  25th or thereabouts. Because they were so focused they began to get each component of their business spot on which resulted in tight calving patterns, high per cow production, more days in milk – get the picture. The bonus was that if things turned dry in summer they had the option of once a day milking to ride it out which reduced grazing pressure, reduced costs and so forth.

The problem we have now is that there are too many people making farming look like you need a degree to operate it well you don’t. You need to be determined, conscientious, analytical, and a bloody hard worker. Follow the simple rules of farming and you will be a success.


Make the most of spring. It may seem wet but while it is raining pasture is growing. Use your production figures as your gauge of your performance. 1.2 milksolids per cow per day for a Fresian herd is not making the most of things! Rule of thumb is if you are leaving less than 4-5 cm of pasture behind then you are underfeeding your milkers

Get on top of your SCC. If you want to use OAD later on you must have a low bulk SCC in your herd. Get the SCC under control during calving and you will be set for the season. Use the RMT paddle or milk testers before  colostrums go into the vat. If in doubt keep her out!

Stick to your knitting which means manage your pastures well over the next 5 months and you have done everything you can. Get your rotations right, your quality right  and you will have milk in the vat and silage in the stack. If you need help then get it before it is too late.

At the end of the day don’t worry about the predictions of summer just yet there will be time enough to worry later on. Get the day-to-day stuff dead right each day and every day and enjoy the rain while you have it.

Best wishes. Ian

About Ian Handcock

Founder Fit 4 Farming initiative Promoting Farmer wellbeing. Performance coach.
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