A lesson gained from the Federated Farmers Dairy Council's meeting at the Treaty Grounds in Waitangi was the role of perspective. How we look on an issue depends on where we come from and what we expect.
With this in mind, both the council and the Federated Farmers Sharemilkers' Section embarked on a three-day farm tour of Northland, right before the formal annual February Dairy Council meeting, in order to see how local Northland farmers manage the local conditions.
The tour started on the west coast of Northland, taking in farms at Ruawai and Dargaville which still has the rugged beauty associated with Ninety Mile Beach - challenging roads, rustic housing, wonderful forests and enticing beaches, with long distances between services.
Interestingly, kumara farming, which the area is famous for, can generate as much income as dairying. However, it is much more labour-intensive than dairying with much done by hand.
The inland farm we visited just out of Kaikohe was an eye-opener when it came to the flooding experienced. For this farmer, who had three water courses to deal with, having higher ground where stock could be kept safe was essential. Storms of tropical origin often sweep through the region in summer and autumn, dumping large volumes of water.
Fencing off the streams with floods tearing down fences, is an issue throughout the region.
Another challenge with fencing off waterways is Northland's renowned lush subtropical growing conditions. The weeds just love it - and these weeds, gorse, privet, wild ginger and others, are large.
These pests grow at the rate of knots and then spread into paddocks. I am sure there is not one farmer in the region who would thank that early settler who bought in bushels of gorse seed, thinking sheep would find it more palatable than anything else.
Riparian planting is recommended, but intensive weed control is needed for some years before the desired plants are well-enough established to crowd out weeds.
Some recognition of the work required to manage riparian margins would go a long way, as would some help, as farmers tackle a mountainous task.
Kikuyu grass is also prevalent throughout the region. Farmers are coming to grips with how to manage it so that it is useful to stock, but it does take an active hand to do this. An alternative is to use more maize as a base feed.
All the farms visited had learnt how to cope with their conditions, whether clay or sandy soils, a high water table or being prone to drying out over summer.
A couple of farms had invested in herd homes or covered, open-sided sheds, where stock could be stood-off during the height of the summer or the wet of the winter. These structures create a helpful breeze as well as shade, taking the summer temperature down a degree or two.
Top tips for stock moves
Cows must be fit and healthy
Body conditions score must be at least 3.0
Cows must able to stand evenly on all four legs
Cows must be acting normally if not, call the vet
Preconditioned cows travel better
All cows should be given magnesium three to four days before transporting and on arrival at the new paddock
Stand all cows off green feed prior to transport for a minimum of four hours and up to 12 hours, to empty themselves
Feed these cows straw, hay or baleage, with free access to water, during this stand-off time.
If going to a new farm, ask the new farm-owner to monitor the stock closely and feed them appropriately.
Transporting stock is difficult for the transport operator, too. Work with yours to get the best outcome.