Pastures are short but very high quality with clover coming away – just how the lambs like it, writes Richard Gavigan.

THE DOCKING IS DONE FOR 2021 AND it’s not a record result. Last year we did 152% lambs docked to ewes mated, our best ever. This year, despite a lift in scanning, we slipped to 142%.

Tight feed conditions during late pregnancy and lambing, the result of slow pasture growth and Porina damage, didn’t help. More significant was the effect of continuous cold, wet, windy weather during lambing.

My neighbour, Don, summed it up. “We didn’t even have a pet lamb this year,” he said. “The weather was too rough to go round them. If we’d gone out and disturbed the ewes and lambs we’d have done even more damage. As it was there were a fair few dead lambs behind rush bushes.”

We now need to focus on making the most of this year’s lamb crop. Pastures are high quality with the clover coming away, but the low covers have affected ewe lactation performance and lamb growth. With this in mind we decided to try weaning an early lambing mob of 300 cull ewes at around 70 days, with the lambs heading off to new grass on our equity partners’ property just down the road. The process has been successful, with both the ewes and lambs now doing well, and me feeling much better having made some decisions and taken positive action.

Back to the docking: in an operational sense it actually went pretty well. One highlight for me was Edward and his dogs. Edward is the 25-year-old son of our equity partners and has been working on his home farm for the last couple of years. He’s a Massey Agricultural Science graduate and likes stock work.

It was most enjoyable watching the confidence with which Edward handled his young huntaway and two heading dogs during docking. In contrast, my pack of part-timers, at times, gave new meaning to the word “unleashed”.

This confidence that often seems to be associated with youth amazes me. We’ve been watching quite a lot of rugby lately as our 19-year-old son, Joseph, is playing for the Manawatu Turbos in the Bunnings NPC.

Joe is a loosehead prop and, like my dogs, has been chomping at the bit to get some game time. He got good minutes against Taranaki in Inglewood, coming off the bench before half time and acquitted himself well.

An enthusiastic student of scrummaging, he was heard to say before the game that he wouldn’t mind having a go against the starting Taranaki tighthead. I did some research and discovered that Michael Bent had played 11 games for the Hurricanes, 135 games for Leinster and four tests for Ireland. This obviously didn’t faze Joseph – he was confident and keen to get stuck in.

Joe’s youthful confidence appears to have rubbed off on his sister, Bridget, who despite only having two years’ rugby experience has lined up for the Wairarapa Bush women’s team this year. I’m sure there’s a lesson in this for all of us, regardless of age.

If you have done the hard work and believe that you are good enough then have a go!

I must admit, though, that due to some lower back pain a couple of months ago I was starting to feel less confident in my ability to keep up with the physical requirements of farming than I used to be. But a new approach to an old routine has fixed me up a treat.

Back in my younger days I was very keen on lifting weights and although I hadn’t touched it for years, all my old gym gear is set up in the woolshed for Joseph.

It was invaluable during the Covid-19 lockdowns, as Joe was able to hit the weights in his woolshed gym and make good progress while others struggled to keep in shape.

It’s also turned my physical fitness around as my lower back issues were simply the result of weak core muscles. I’ve got into the routine of doing some core and other strength exercises in the woolshed every time I go down to feed the dogs or give them a run,

with the result that my lower back problems have virtually disappeared.

Full of new-found enthusiasm, I had the great idea that this sort of approach to training for farm work could be an add-on to the Farmstrong programme – “Farmfit” I’d call it. But when I searched up Farmstrong I found they’d beaten me to it.

Farmstrong already has a farm fit component, including a ‘Turn on Your Core’ four-week challenge for farmers. You don’t need a woolshed gym to take it on and it will help set you up for the busy season on the farm. Give it a go!

  • Richard Gavigan farms 320ha of medium/steep hill country 8km south of Pahiatua. 2100 ewes are put to the ram. Docking target is 150% and most lambs are sold store. They winter around 120 R2yr steers.