Shaking off the winter blues

Columnist Dani Darke returns to her keyboard with observations of spring on the family’s Aria sheep and beef farm.

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Maddy’s tenth birthday present - a GoodNature possum trap - has delivered a steady supply of dead possums.

Columnist Dani Darke returns to her keyboard with observations of spring on the family’s Aria sheep and beef farm.

SPRING – THE BEST AND WORST TIME of the year. So much hope, daffodils, spring lambs, hogget chops for tea, and sunny days. Dashed with a sprinkling of heavy rain, thunderstorms, down cows and muddy gateways.

Once the sun comes out from behind the rain cloud I can’t help but smile with joy at the possibility of another spring, and summer just around the corner. Shaking off the winter blues, and the winter rotation with all those pesky pigtail standards is an annual highlight.

Docking has come and gone. This year the kids stepped up and the main picker-uppers were my eldest daughter and her two cousins. We also had a dedicated musterer for the first time. A lovely older guy who has awesome trial standard dogs, but only a handful of sheep at home to practice on. He has a wee trial yard set up, but the six sheep see a dog, make a beeline for the yard, and wait patiently for the gate to be closed.

Presently we are three-quarters of the way through calving, which (touch wood) is going really well this year. We were probably a bit harder on the cows this winter, but they have coped well, and are popping their calves out without drama. We calve right next to the house and it’s an enjoyable pastime watching calves race around the front paddock at dusk.

This year we spent a small fortune on nitrogen, but we are seeing the benefits with our lambs looking roly-poly and happy.

Nitrogen in our farm system is a must in the spring. It brings on a spiral of goodness – fat lambs, fat ewes, easy tupping, good scanning and so the spiral continues (unless a drought turns up of course). Conversely, no N, and slow-to-arrive spring feed creates a spiral of doom – we struggle to get lambs away, then it’s the battle to get light ewes up to weight, plus all the extra mouths still on, then limited options to flush for mating.

Besides that, having grass makes farming much more fun – moving about the farm thinking about how to keep quality is a more enjoyable place to be than trying to work out how everything is going to be fed. Of course, we need to make sure we have money in the bank too, and we made sure to do the maths before our N went on. With the spike in fertiliser prices, when we put in our crystal ball lamb price for December, 30kg of N/ha still stacked up well.

If you haven’t already, I highly recommend watching Fight For The Wild. It’s a New Zealand documentary you’ll find on YouTube about the fight for our native birds and PredatorFree 2050.

It starts out a bit depressing but then gets quite exciting. I sat down with the family to watch it, and we (including the kids) ended up binge-watching all four episodes. By the end, Maddy asked for a possum trap for her birthday. I happily obliged and for her tenth birthday last month we bought a GoodNature possum trap. It has been delivering us dead possums on a consistent basis and checking the possum killer is a highlight of the day.

I hear tales of people earning more from possum fur than wool, and this has lit the capitalist kid’s eyes up. Plucking the fur from a dead, cold possum is not much fun though, so we need to find a better way.

I love how on a farm there are a hundred ways a kid can make an enterprising crack at something. I might google auto fur pluckers – that could make a good Christmas present.

Dani and husband Anthony and their three girls Eva, Maddy and Allegra run a 412-hectare 4500-stock unit intensive bull beef and breeding/finishing sheep farm at Aria, King Country.