This year will be my seventh spring in New Zealand, and the first one in the Waikato.
Last spring I was still working in Canterbury at the base of the Southern Alps.
Winter, spring and calving look quite different down there.
During the winter period cows and heifers are grazed on run-off blocks to maintain pasture covers on the diary platform as growth rates are close to zero for a few months due to low temperatures.
Cows and heifers on the run-off receive crop diets like kale or fodder beet.
While on the crop at the run-off heifers will receive a now well-known pre-calving treatment, "Teatseal". Teatseal is a product that prevents mastitis around calving by functioning as a physical barrier for bacteria in the teat end.
Although these days a commonly accepted and applied management tool, getting teatseal into heifers - while on a run-off with generally no yarding facilities - provided some serious challenges a few years ago.
An answer to this was created via a special teatseal trailer that allows about five heifers at a time to be bailed up giving easy access for teatseal insertion.
As the girls come up to calving they come back to the dairy platform, be it in the truck or they walk home. Once on the home farm, animals that are close to calving receive support (pre-calving diet with additional minerals) to get them healthy through the transition of a dry cow to a lactating animal post calving.
Most herds in Canterbury will be around 1000 cows and so the springer mob can be up to 100 cows at one stage.
On the busiest day about 50 replacement calves will be born requiring intensive 'baby care'.
Quite regularly farm staff will have a limited amount of farming experience and most activities will be supported by Standard Operating Procedures: basically a description of the activity supported by discussion, consensus, science and experience ahead of time.
The objective is to get things done repeatedly and successfully. Activities like mineral supplementation, diet calculations, (gold) colostrum harvesting and calf feeding are crucial elements and, when executed well, set up for a successful spring.
Routine blood tests, both on cows (mineral status) and calves (sufficient colostrum intake), was a tool used at the Purata Farms to evaluate these procedures.
I've had a really good time while in Canterbury and enjoyed supporting the farms in making their systems better year on year.
On that same note I look forward discovering the Waikato farms and farmers and their ways, methods and systems.