Like many farmers, Covid-19 brought a range of challenges for Bridie Virbickas.

My wonderful 600-cow feedpad and effluent system were only about two weeks away from being finished when we went into lockdown. It had been in the making for an entire year. Luckily, last season was kind to me and I was able to manage without it. However, as of mid-April, with only a week’s notice, I was to be autumn calving 70 carryovers and milking through winter.

Usually, the home farm calves the carryovers in the autumn and milks them through with late calving cows and empties.

The bull calves are reared and sold as yearlings along with 270 spring-born bull calves. However, the prolonged drought this summer meant the feed position of the home farm was not desirable to be milking through the winter months.

My sister and brother-in-law, Heather and Kelvin Langley who contract milk the 900-cow farm, made the decision not to calve the carryovers to set the farm up better for the coming season. The options were: I calve the carryovers and winter milk or send the carryovers to the works. There was no way I was going to let that happen.

Two of my favourite cows were in that mob and if I was going to calve two cows, I might as well calve 70. It was also a good year to be stuck on the farm all winter, thanks to Covid, I wasn’t able to travel.

The addition of 50 hectares to my milking platform at the beginning of the 19/20 season, and continuing to milk the same number of cows, meant I could stay all grass for longer. With the new feedpad and extra land, the intention was to increase cow numbers for the 20/21 season and the sudden addition of 70 carryovers in April, certainly sped that up. We have increased the herd from 560 to 690, milking through two 22-aside herringbone sheds.

Transitioning from ‘thinking of drying off and chipping away at jobs over winter’ to ‘I start calving in a week and I need to build up enough feed to winter more cows than usual AND winter milk’ was a really stressful few days. The use of feed budgets and advice from my consultant Mark Dodd has been priceless and reassuring that I could make it work. It all depended on what the winter would bring.

Usually my farm would not be suitable for winter milking as it gets so wet, so if the weather was crap and winter milking was not a good idea, at least I would have given the carryovers a chance.
Luckily, the growing conditions this winter so far have been amazing with growth rates consistently above 30kg DM/ha/day through July and I have even got a bit of a tan!! This has meant I was able to be all grass until I finally needed to start using the feedpad in mid July.

Having the feedpad finished and ready to roll but too much grass to be able to use it was torture.

The reticulated green water floodwash is amazing and keeps it looking brand new. My cows also love it.

My two new members of staff, Dani and Dan are absolute troopers and have made this season super fun so far. This year has also been full of change which has made it challenging and exciting.