The local district newspaper said that this September was the driest since records began in 1908 - 7.8mm of rain when 82mm is the average. What is Mother Nature saying I wondered? I looked around for clues. Although September has been dry, the annual rainfall here is still right on target, but September this year has been a reminder of what February/March can be like. Last year the soil temperature in November was below 13 degrees and carrots need 15 degrees to germinate. This year I am eating fresh salads already and the strawberries are fruiting up! The first September I was here at Middelmost there was rainwater pouring down the driveway and the little horse I had at that time was very concerned about it lapping around his fetlocks in the stable. This September Mother Nature has given us another reminder of how we must be prepared for all eventualities.
"Be prepared," I kept thinking to myself as I went through this week's tasks. But, be prepared for what? The weather was hot, sticky, and very unseasonable and there had been absolutely no rain. It felt like mushroom weather, facial eczema weather, and earthquake weather. We needed a good thunderstorm to clear the air but Jim wasn't promising anything. I watched the balance of the clover content in the pasture in the big paddock next door - it was taking precedence as the drier weather continued. I watched the condition of the cows and the consistency of their manure, and I watched the balance of the good insects and the bad insects in and around the garden. I constantly checked the water tank levels and balanced the requirements of each activity at Middelmost, and I used the stocks of harvested water on the new fruit trees. I balanced the warning signs and made an early decision to shut the cows in the cowshed paddock for two hours twice a day with only straw to eat. On Saturday warm, soaking rain arrived. On Monday a farmer up the road lost three young bulls with bloat, and I thanked Mother Nature for giving me the clues and for telling me to keep my cow's tummy full of roughage.
I think we are in a year of extremes and my policy of having the 'sunnies' and the Drizabone lined up together is going to pay off. If the weather and the season are going to be so changeable then we must be changeable too and we must be able to take immediate and appropriate actions to suit. If there is the possibility of a freezing cold snap, make sure the shed is kept clean at all times and can house the animals at short notice. Make sure you can get rid of water if there is suddenly too much, and make sure you can access a supply when yours has, equally suddenly, become drastically low. Think about alternate feed supplies and source them before there isn't any left. Think of planting that unused piece of garden with a fodder crop, or start poking seeds into every spare spot...turnips amongst the flowers, a row of corn up the driveway, sunflower seeds around the water tank, pumpkin seeds in tyres filled with dirt out on the roadside. Anything that will provide a meal for your animals during seasonal times of hardship has to be thought about and actioned before that hardship hits. And, if there is not hardship, you will have extra goodies to share with your friends and neighbours (or heaps of starters for your new season's compost bin).
I seem to have spent the week shuffling calves around. While Cream Cheese was feeling very sad about things, when she had milk fever last week, her calf decided to move over to Africa and check out the milk supply there. Africa didn't mind. Cool, I thought. Cream Cheese's milk is very rich and I always have to foster her calves off to another cow and feed her milk out after I have put it through the separator (or have watered it down if I don't have time to separate). This meant Sweet Pea was feeding her calf 'Wellington', Poppy's calf 'Little Miss Jonquil' and a big Friesian/jersey cross I had bought to give her a full compliment of calves. But the two calves on Africa scoured - she had too much milk! I phoned the dairy farmer who has a jersey herd at the other end of the road and, yes, they had a lovely jersey heifer and, yes, they'd drop her down for me. I looked at Africa standing outside the milking shed - udder bulging and milk leaking down her legs. I decided to shift the big Friesian/jersey that was on Sweet Pea, over to her and put the new straight jersey heifer onto Sweet Pea when she arrived. No problems. The Friesian/cross leapt in with gusto and Africa looked relieved. The new jersey heifer arrived and things started to become confusing - the new calf was a clone of Jonquil. Same colour, same shape, same size, same features! And then I noticed, Jonquil had brown eyelashes and the new calf had black eyelashes. Ear tagging is going to be a priority!
Things settled down. Africa had three babies, Sweet Pea had three babies, Poppy and Cream Cheese was feeding ten new beefy calves between them via the calfateria...and then we had a flush of grass. The two jersey calves on Africa scoured - one of them quite badly - and once again I had to do a shuffle to the left and a shuffle to the right. One of Africa's jersey calves came right with a good dose of Scourban but the other needed more drastic action. He was Scourbanned in the morning and had electrolytes and a Zaqualin pellet in the afternoon. To be safe I decided to keep him off Africa's milk for a couple of days and I went and hauled one of the beefy's out of the forest to plug into Africa instead. "No problems'" said Africa and I blessed her for having her mother's placid temperament. Africa now has four babies and that seems to be just right for her. Sweet Pea has three and the other two cows are feeding nine babies as well as two very smug-looking pigs.
And then the dairy farmer with the jerseys rang to say he had two beautiful jersey heifers destined for the bobby truck. Would I like them? How could I refuse and, anyway, Bossy Boots would be calving soon. So, in the space of a week, Middelmost has gone from five beefy Angus calves to fifteen beefy calves and eight dairy calves. I am going to be a very tired pixie by Christmas!