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Cows escape! Mixed in with the neighbour's herd...

January 15, 2009


This is definitely not the sort of thing you want to see on a hot summer's day; our cows wandering through a gap in the hedge to mingle in with the neighbour's herd!

Cows broken into the neighbour's property

I guess it was bad luck that we'd sent our herds into neighbouring paddocks; that's only happened a couple of times since the start of the season. But there was a difference this time - we had two bulls running with our herd and the neighbour had a bull in with his herd too. There was just too much temptation for them!

An unimpressed bull

From the look of the broken fence it would seem that the neighbour's bull broke through first, then our two bulls went into defensive mode and tried chasing him back. Meanwhile there are always some curious individuals within any group of animals and those are the ones that decided to pass through the gap into the neighbouring farm.

Our neighbour and us had to spend a couple of hours in the hot sun sorting through the herds and getting any strayers back onto the correct property. All-in-all it wasn't as bad as it could have been and was actually a good excuse for a chat.

The bulls wouldn't give up though, even after putting a temporary fence on both sides of the gap. So eventually we decided to move the entire herd into a different paddock away from the edge of the farm.

Something needs to be done about that broken fence though...

Christmas sleep in - NOT!

December 25, 2008


4:45am on Christmas Morning

Ahhh, Christmas Day - that day where everyone's jolly and no-one works.

That's not the case on the farm I'm afraid - Santa had barely gone when I got up to work! How about a 4:45am start on Christmas Day? That's not a sleep in!

Well the cows have to be milked and they can't do it themselves! (Not yet anyway - I hear that robot milkers are the hot trend overseas...)

Forking out triple pay to a relief milker to do the chores at Christmas time isn't an option for us so that makes for an early start for me in order to get back home early enough not to frustate my eager present-opening kids.

Christmas Day is anything but relaxing here, with:

  • early morning milking
  • presents at home
  • presents with the grandparents
  • Christmas lunch with extended family
  • afternoon milking
  • Christmas dinner with more extended family

It'll be boxing day before I know it!

Making "dulce de leche"

November 23, 2008


Living on a dairy farm there's one thing we have plenty of: milk!

What can you do with plenty of milk? Well here's one thing: make dulce de leche - "sweet milk" Argentinian style. It's a delicious caramel-like spread that can be used on cakes, pastries or even toast.

There are plenty of recipes for DDL around on the net, but they all seem to differ a little so I think you have to be a bit flexible with the cooking times in order to come up with the right sort of mixture.

We went for the following mix:

  • 4-5 litres of whole milk
  • 1.3 kg of white sugar
  • 1 tablespoon of baking soda
  • a dash of vanilla

Cinnamon can be used instead of vanilla for a slightly different taste.

Start off by mixing the milk, sugar and vanilla together in a big pot and heat it into a boil. Then reduce the heat down to the minimum amount necessary to keep the mixture simmering and let it simmer for a couple of hours while stirring it regularly.

Next, sprinkle the baking soda over the mix and stir it in slowly. The baking soda will help to thicken the mixture and turn it into the classic caramel-brown colour of dulce de leche.

Cooking dulce de leche

Keep the mixture simmering for a few hours so that it reduces down to about 1/3 to 1/2 of it's initial volume and be sure to stir it regularly (but slowly) so that the bottom of the pot doesn't burn.

Don't let the mixture get too thick though because it will further thicken once it cools. The recipes that I saw recommended 3-5 hours of simmering but our dulce de leche took a little longer that that. In fact we let cooked it for about 4 hours the first day, let it stand over night, then decided that that it needed another couple of hours the next day.

Dulce de leche stored in a container

Eventually we had a nice, thick spread of caramelly dulce de leche! Since we started with about 5 litres of milk we ended up with maybe 2 litres of creamy mixture.

Into some plastic containers it went, then into the fridge where it can keep for several weeks (so I'm told).

Pouring dulce de leche on toast

Ok, now that we've made some dulce de leche what can we do with it? It's a bit too sweet to eat on it's own but it's great for cooking into cakes, etc., or even easier - it can be used as a topping for ice cream or even good old toast.

That's right - dulce de leche on toast makes a great start to the day! Many argentinians prepare themselves a tostada con dulce de leche to accompany their mate (tea) drink each morning.

Tostada con dulce de leche

If you can't be bothered with the time and hassle of making dulce de leche yourself then the good news is that you can buy it ready made in pottles.

You're unlikely to find it in a typical NZ supermarket but you can order dulce de leche online here and have it delivered to your house!

There's plenty more that can be cooked with DDL. Check back here soon for some delicious recipes using the mixture that we made.

Milk payout drops 10%

November 21, 2008


Payout drops to $6

Well, the rumours were correct - Fonterra announced a substantial drop in forecasted milk payout for the 2008-2009 season.

The new estimate is for $6.00 per kgMS, being $5.60 for milk + $0.40 for the value added component. This represents a drop of $0.60 per kg/MS from the previous estimate, which was already reduced down from the initial estimate of $7.00 per kg/MS.

A 10% drop in income probably converts into a 20% to 50% drop in profits for the typical farmer so this reduced payout forecast is going to hit the industry hard.

Sure, $6/kgMS is better than what was achieved in other years, but farm expenses have been steadily rising and many farmers have budgeted on higher payouts given Fonterra's extremely optimistic statements earlier in the year.

Farm and livestock prices have already dropped off from their record high values and are sure to be headed further south now - so those farmers who sold up last year will be sitting happy while those who invested heavily earlier in the year and those new to the game are likely to be in some financial stress right now.

But that's the name of the game. If there's anything positive to be taken from the lowered payout forecast it's that farms and cows will become a little more affordable for those farmers looking to expand their business in search of longer term gains.

For us, being new to farming, things don't look all that rosy right now.

Will the Fonterra payout drop further?

November 19, 2008


Payout to drop again?

Update: 10% payout drop announced

Fonterra have scheduled a TV broadcast to announce an updated payout forecast on friday. Given the current economic climate and recent SanLu scandal we can only assume that the payout forecast is headed further south.

In fact the payout is likely to drop a significant amount as Fonterra have called this press release outside of their normal payout updates - something they generally don't do unless the forecast is to change by more than 30 cents.

The 2008/2009 payout forecast has already been reduced to $6.60/kg of milk solids from earlier in the year so a 30 cent reduction would mean a payout drop of about 4.5%. There are rumours on blogs and the media however that the forecast may drop to $6.00 or lower - i.e. a 10% drop in revenues.

Though still high by historical standards, a $6/kgMS payout would signal significantly reduced earnings for us and other farmers, and completely changes the basis for our decision to give it a go on the farm for a year. It looks like I might be heading back to an office job at the end of the farming season if dairy prices continue this trend... assuming there are still office jobs to go back to in this period of global recession!

Grass cut for silage

November 8, 2008


Grass drying in front of the mountain

Finally we have some nice fine weather after three weeks of almost constant drizzle, wind and greyness. This time it looks like the sun will stick around for a few days. That's great because we've had several paddocks of grass shut up ready to make silage.

Today it was a case of getting those paddocks cut, teddered and ready for bailing tomorrow. The good news for us is that the silage making is contracted out to an external company these days so we don't need to spend all day on a tractor gettings things done.

In yesteryear silage was cut, semi-dried then all thrown in a silage pit which was covered with plastic, tied down and left to stand. These days the semi-dried grass is bailed in large silage-bales instead and each individual bale is wrapped in plastic. The main advantage of the new method is that the bales can easily be used all over the farm as required, rather than being limited to the paddocks near the silage pit.

The weather can change very quickly around here so tomorrow it will be all go - getting those bales made and wrapped and ready for storage!

Cut grass teddered in rows

Waking up with sore fingers

October 16, 2008


Sore fingers from farming

Over the last couple of weeks I've been waking up in the mornings with sore fingers - they ache a bit and I have trouble squeezing my hand into a tight fist. They recover farily quickly - within 10 or 20 minutes I forget they were even sore and they don't bother me at all during the day.

I've put it down to the type of farm work I've been doing - milking the cows requires flicking milking cups up and squeezing rubber tubes. Drenching also stresses the fingers as you have to reach over and grab the cows by the the mouth in order to get the drenching gun in and some of the cows flick their heads around when they get the chance.

I was surprised when my wife told me that she's been getting sore fingers in the mornings too. She generally doesn't do the milkings but has been feeding the calves and lifting buckets of milk so I guess those activities could stress the fingers too.

The soreness is completely different to the sore fingers and wrists I used to get doing computer work. I never imagined that farming could give you RSI but maybe it actually can...

For now it's not a problem - just something I'm wary of. But if things get worse a trip to the doctor might be in order.

It's spring fertiliser time

October 11, 2008


Spreading fertiliser on the pasture

It's good to be well into spring - calving is mostly over and the grass is growing well. On most days the cows can now each as much grass as they want and the plentiful feed is converting into good milk production.

But despite the good grass growth there we can't just sit back and relax! Spring growth drains a lot of minerals from the soil and with summer not too far away our grass production will start dropping back if we don't replenish some of those soil minerals. So it's time to spread spring fertiliser over much of the farm.

Luckily for us (from a workload perspective) we have a contractor coming on farm to apply the fertiliser. He started today with 15 tonnes loaded onto his truck, with more to come over the next few days, weather permitting.

It's quite fascinating watching a truck spread fertiliser over the farm - it must take a lot of skill (and nerves) to drive such a heavy vehicle over our rolling-hill terrain. Best him not me!

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