Life on the Farm

A year on the farm.

Spring

Between October and December is when the cows produce the most milk. Most farms milk their cows twice a day at approximately 5am and 3pm, however the timing of milkings will vary from farm to farm. This is also the time of year that mating occurs in order to get the cows in calf for the next season.

Spring on-farm means all hands to the pump:

  • It is the best time of the year - cows are coming into milk
  • Farmers start to get 2-3 mobs of stock on the farm.
    These are:
    • The cows that are about to calve (the springers)
    • The cows that have calved
  • Young calves that have to be taught how to drink. They are often housed in buildings for the first five to six weeks to keep them out of the weather
  • It is also the time of year to start planting crops that might be needed for feeding to the cows in late summer, e.g. turnips or maize
  • After calving, you may see cows with painted tails - this helps identify the cows that are ready to be mated
  • Mating is by artificial insemination for the majority of cows, and bulls are used to finish the breeding season.

Summer

From January to March things on the farm seem to slow down, because, depending on the weather conditions, the amount of milk that cows produce drops. Cows are given pregnancy tests to help aid farmers decision making for the remainder of the season and season to come.

When driving past dairy farms in the summer you may see:

  • Haymaking underway
  • Cows grazing summer crops that have been planted to help them through the season
  • Pasture watered through irrigation.

Some herds may only be milked once a day in summer. Cows typically graze once around the farm every 25 days.

Autumn

From April to May the herd gradually finishes milking for the season. This period is often referred to as the dry period and is often used to tackle major maintenance and development projects on-farm such as fencing, drainage, water reticulation and shed maintenance. Farmers have more free time to enjoy lifestyle and leisure activities as well as plan ahead for the next season.

The autumn rain ensures grass grows more quickly; so that:

  • Farms look more lush
  • Cows are in good condition.

Farmers are:

  • Drying cows off (stopping milking them)
  • Already starting to think about what needs to be done next spring
  • Starting to feed on feed pads.

Winter

By May most cows have stopped milking. From here on, the farmers’ focus is making sure the cows’ condition is maintained:

  • Cows are fed just enough to maintain their body condition (feed only maintenance) to ensure there is enough grass available for their increased requirements once milking again in the spring
  • Farmers start to put minerals on their paddocks
  • The traditional date for changing farms is 1st June - Gypsy Day/Week, with sharemilkers moving cows from one farm to another
  • Many cows go to other farms for grazing
  • Winter is the usual time for feeding hay and silage to make up for the slow pasture growth rate.

The dairy season starts in June but the real action begins around July/September with spring calving.

This is a busy and exciting time of the year. Days start early when farmers get up to check the paddocks for newborn calves and start the morning milking. Once milking is finished there's time to go home for breakfast and a break before feeding the calves and carrying out farm duties.

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