WHAT’S the most important thing on your farm?
The number of cows you’re milking, their breeding and production potential?
What about the state of your pasture, size of the mortgage, supplementary feed, fertiliser history or maintenance of the milk plant?
Ask Tim Cashin of Koonwarra, and it goes without saying that his partner Grit, children and farm hands are the most important but until his bore started drying up in January 2015, he might not have had “water” running a close second.
It’s South Gippsland after all. It always rains here!
Not this year, or at least, not since October anyway.
Koonwarra usually gets slightly more rain than Pound Creek but based on the Bureau of Meteorology figures for the year from its Pound Creek weather station, the area has had just over half of its average annual rainfall and from the start of October, when just 6.4mm was recorded in arguably the most critical month of the year for local dairy farmers, the totals have fallen off a cliff.
October 6.4mm, November 38.2mm and December 24mm; is all we have to show for the last quarter of 2015 so it was understandable that things were getting a bit desperate out on the Cashin property without any runoff.
“Grit and I put in this dam when we came here about 10 years ago but we haven’t had to use it until this year,” said Tim.
“The bore started a slow process of dying in January and we really needed to see some water coming into the dam so we sunk another bore.”
The first drilling attempt came up dry after going down 100 metres, which was a bit of a worry as the dam levels started to recede, so they went again.
“We’re pretty lucky here. We’ve always known there was an aquifer under us so it was just a matter of persevering,” he said.
The Cashins got an early Christmas present, the best they could have received, when the second bore, sunk down only 22 metres, started to produce good water.
“It’s the best thing I’ve seen in a while,” said Tim, at the sight of good, fresh, cool water coming out of the ground.
“It’s slightly salty but no worries. It’s producing 7200 litres per hour which is pretty good.”
Tim has also been full of praise for the local tradesmen who have come to the rescue, over the Christmas-New Year holiday time to set up a pump on the bore and help him connect it, via a pressure pump and pipes, to his 50 stock troughs and milking shed with any excess going into the dam.
“The water will rise into this pressure tank and go out into the troughs as the cattle drink it. We’ll produce a megalitre a week, so that should be enough.”
Lactating cows drink hundreds of litres of water daily and with the Cashins continuing to milk 400 cows twice a day, that’s a lot of water, and a lot of feed in dry conditions.
“They’re still getting a slight pick in the paddocks but it’s mostly supplementary feed now.
“We’ve bought in some vetch hay (a winter growing, high protein legume hay) and also some cereal hay and along with some homemade silage, that’s what they are getting at the moment.
“They’re going along OK.”
It’s not what it could be if we’d have had good rainfall through to Christmas like we’re supposed to have but with the water flowing from a good bore, the Cashins will make it through this present dry spell and be ready when, and it will finally break, when it does rain.
But in some parts locally, fellow South Gippsland farmers haven’t been anywhere near as lucky, coming up with makeshift ways to share water or drying off cows altogether and moving them elsewhere.
Carting water for domestic purposes has been going on since June in some cases and they’re only talking “possible showers” next week, in the order of 1mm.