The terrible summer, all around us, continues. We send love and hope to every dairyfarmer, and to everyone, being affected by these devastating fires.
We too, are working on the premise that this summer is the new normal.
Every summer prior to this one, we have been putting actions and intentions in place, so we can be as responsive and ready as we can be, rather than reactionary, when the heat and fire risks hit. But we realise that it’s also unknown territory.
We’ve done our best to make good the conditions for everyone (and everything) on our farm; animals, people (and vegetation, pastures, soils, compost, nestboxes, etc.) everyday, every year.
Summers here now aren’t just ‘business as usual’, we don’t just ‘soldier on’. We make good choices for the welfare of all who come under our care and responsibility and we think about what’s best for the farm as a whole. In summer, winter, and every challenging season.
Two written protocols inform our summer management though (we also believe if things are first taken on and then documented, they will happen) – Hot Response Days and Total Fire Ban Days. Fire Ban Days are obvious triggers, but we have other certain ones that will enact our Hot Response Day Plan, think high temperatures, low humidity and northerly winds, or even Total Fire Bans in the region to the north of us. How the humans and goats are faring, after multiple hot days.
It’s possible to get complacent about the long summer when day after day is, well, hot, hotter, hottest. But we will stick to our protocols, and also learn from them, and from the farm, and most importantly, continue to change things as we learn. For example, on a Hot Response Day, our grazing management plan goes out the window and we focus on putting the herd in one of our paddocks that is well shaded with high tree cover, but close enough so we can closely monitor them. We make sure all outdoor work is completed before 1pm and that our people stay healthy and well hydrated. Wet towels for the goats, too.
On a Total Fire Ban day our preparedness goes up a notch, or four. We clear the floor of the dairy and bring the goats inside if there is a fire alert; the goatlings go up on the milking stand, the kids on the eastern side of the shed, the milkers hanging all about all within. And us too. Our recent fire drill (a 42 degree day with a blustering northerly) saw the herd and staff all safe inside within 13 minutes. The goats weren’t stressed because they associate the space with feeding and milking. We have a powerful 80KVA generator which keeps power on and means we can run industrial fans to keep us all cool and keep the smoke out. Plenty of drinking water all round.The Cheeseroom is clad with cement sheeting and aluminium shutters which also protects its coolroom panelling material from flame. In the dairy, the goats (and especially their feet and udders see this link to feet and this to udders) are protected from destructive radiant heat. Our bucks are moved to the rumination paddock – this is our most grazed paddock and closest to the sheds. As good as being in the dairy, without being in it. (Phew!)
On very hot days, we pay particular attention to our most vulnerable – kids and older does. Electrolytes, cool wet towels, bring the older does in with the herd, but take them off the milking line, give everyone extra care where needed.
We believe our farming practices may challenge some farming norms. But hopefully, just like our summers, many of our practices will also be the new normal. That we all learn much more from these summers, and for the future of farming more broadly. It’s as important for our staff, as it is for our animals, that we do so. And for our many long and loyal cheese buyers, who ask all those good and specific questions at the farmers markets, or connect with us on-line, for all those retailers and distributors who take on the selling of our cheeses with such heart.
Of course we are well placed, after all our work and thinking, feeling, about farming. We have a relatively small herd and a relatively small team, plus we have accrued decades of farming and life experience. Just like that ship metaphor, it’s much easier to change tack in a sailboat that sits lightly on the ocean, than in a massive container freighter or a huge cruise liner. Yes, we are living in extreme times; it’s not business as usual. But due to good management and a little good luck, we are very happy that we are the ones in the sailboat and not on the Titanic. We feel hopeful and trust that our farm will be capable to manage the new normal.