Lockdown day was particularly memorable for Wairarapa farmer Mark Guscott and his family.

March 26, 2020, will long be remembered. It was my long-suffering wife’s 40th birthday as well as the Covid-19 lockdown beginning. She didn’t get to go out and have a long lunch with her friends like she wanted but it will be one of those days that we remember.

Maybe like Princess Diana’s death or for the oldies, when the first Moon landing happened. All these words like lockdown, social distancing etc. were unbelievable scenarios just a few weeks ago. Going to town feels a bit like those doomsday movies that are all over Netflix now.

I ventured out into the unknown the other day on essential business to get quad bike tyres replaced because it’s rained (more on that soon).

I’d spoken to Grant the dealer earlier and he was saying how difficult it was running a retail business when there were no customers.

His guys who did the job for me were pragmatic about the crisis and good to deal with as usual, but it got me thinking. We’re lucky enough to be classed as essential services and inside the farm gate it’s almost business as usual.

We should do what we can for these rural-based retailers, in fact all the businesses in our rural towns. For me that means paying our bills as soon as we receive them. Don’t wait till the 20th of the following month or whenever you pay your bills. Pay them now. It’ll help pay the wages for the skilled and committed people that we all need.

I mentioned we had rain… holy shit, did we ever! 180mm over three days was a beautiful thing because it was getting tough.

I know it was fairly localised to Wairarapa and I feel for the rest of the cockies looking for rain and I’m sorry to gloat, but it was bloody brilliant! Our 800-hectare property was transformed in a few days.

We’ve just finished weaning the cows a couple of weeks ago and now the focus is turning to the detail of how to winter the cattle we have or should we sell them or find some grazing.

The usual carry-on when you don’t have very much suitable ground for wintering cattle.

We put our 130 odd Angus cows to a Wagyu bull as part of the FirstLight system. We’ve done this for three years now. The first year we sold the weaners soon after weaning. Second year kept the steers and sold the weaner heifers. This year we’ve got the whole lot and looking to sell the weaner heifers again.

There’s a bit of a misconception that Wagyu cattle don’t grow that well. Our 18-month steers are 480kg liveweight, from a 200kg weaning weight. I admit they’ve been priority-fed for their whole life but we’ve just come out of a summer drought, so it hasn’t been easy. They haven’t had any supplement apart from some red clover balage last winter. We have to winter them twice as part of the FirstLight deal but a good chunk of them could be killed before their second winter and that’s a sign that cattle have got the ability to grow well, I think. Couple that with a guaranteed schedule printed months in advance and it’s a good system. More people should look into it.

I do wonder about the future of farming any sort of cattle as the wintering isn’t going to get easier. Stony ground works well as far as lack of soil damage goes but the leaching is through the roof. Concrete is expensive and if the gumboot dancers aren’t sure whether it stacks up financially for them, then it sure as hell won’t work for a beef finishing system. Maybe I should stop thinking and get back to work.

Keep up the rain dancing, it does work eventually.