In 2013 we said goodbye to the sheep and beef cattle and brought the first black and white 'milkers' into the Valley, putting on a 54 bale rotary shed, initially milking 550 cows. During the build we also underwent a land swap with our neighbours which saw us gain another 200 ha of irrigable flat land.
This meant losing our high country hills and bringing our total area down to 600ha but giving us the ability to winter on farm and go into the second season with a 900 cow herd.
What makes this season's dry even harder to bear is the fact we are still waiting on an irrigation scheme which should have been running six months ago. At this stage we can only irrigate 180ha of a possible 380ha with our existing supply.
It's a massive struggle to keep the grass growing in this heat with such a limited amount of water. Andy and I make it a mission to always look ahead or we would both be bald by now. And unlike many others we have the prospect of hope, with the water due to start pumping from the Waitaki River in March.
We had our first whiff of the looming drought back in October, when strong nor-west winds kicked in, causing sleepless nights with fears of pivots toppling over. As the temperature climbed throughout November and December the mix of strong winds and hot days left our irrigation systems struggling. Grasses were starting to go and reality kicked in: the land was parched and there was no rain on the horizon.
Where we live, in the mouth of the Valley, just 70mm of rain has fallen since November, more than 100mm short of the average for the period. We were looking towards January which is traditionally one of the wettest months to bring a reprieve but with less than 20mm the panic set in.
By mid-December we were feeding out 3kg of dry matter per head per day. In early January, the lack of feed forced us to send 200 cows away to be milked at a neighbouring farm. The move meant we took an instant hit on production but ensured feed for the remaining stock and kept the core of the herd milking well.
It's the only time we were glad of the miserable $NZ4.70 milk pay out, as sending them away at $NZ8.60 would be enough to make a grown man cry. We are now feeding out twice a day, about 4kg of bailage per cow as well as 2kg to 3kg of palm kernel.
The drought, (which the government has just kindly, officially recognised in North Otago, Canterbury and Marlborough), is roughly costing us about $NZ3000 a day. This is taking into account the loss of production coupled with the cost of supplementary feed.
In just our second season milking I'd be lying if I said it hasn't been tough. We are able to cope with the knowledge that, for us at least, there is an end in sight, with the new irrigation scheme about to kick in.
We realise many others in this part of the world aren't as lucky and with the 30 degree days continuing, even the most hardy farmers in the area can't ignore their scorched surroundings. The number of stock trucks leaving the Valley is continuing and with no obvious rain ahead to prepare crops for winter, the rest of the year is looking grim.
For us, the dry should be over soon but the ongoing effect will be long-lasting. The whole season can be scratched down to an experience, one we shouldn't have to relive anytime soon.