Have a plan in place
Planning is key to managing a dry summer. A good plan will reduce stress and ensure that the dry summer will not impact on the following season's production.
A Summer Management Plan will help to maximise profit and reduce stress in a dry summer.
It may not be easy to predict when it will rain, but a plan provides the framework for what decisions need to be made and when. The plan needs to be reviewed as conditions change.
For a summer manangement plan template download the Dry Summer Management Guide.
Assess your current position
Assess your feed supplies and cow condition. How much can you feed in the dry, allowing for having supplement on hand for when it rains in winter.
Estimate how many cows you can milk mid-March to early April. Guard against being over-optimistic. Then consider your options for buying in feed and supplements and for reducing feed demand.
Take action early
Quit low value stock
If you are running short of feed it may be better to quit cull cows early than to hang onto them in the hope that it will rain, or try to graze them elsewhere.
Dry-off poor performers
It is better to put scarce feed or expensive supplements into cows that are producing well. The others will eat a lot less when dry, and you might be able to graze them off.
Remember your young stock
Don't forget young stock at home and grazing on the run-off.
Use supplements wisely
First and foremost earmark 10-14 days of supplement for the period after rain (approx. 100kg/DM/cow); more if severe drought, less if C4 grasses will grow after rain. There will be a lot of pasture decay at this time and you need something to keep your cows going and to keep the rotation slow to build up feed supplies.
Feeding supplements keeps animals in production longer than would otherwise be possible. However supplements can increase stock water rates. Consider providing water in the yards the reduce the demands to reduce the demand on troughs in the paddock after milking.
Avoid using autumn/winter supplements if at all possible. Use them only as a last resort after drying-off the entire herd.
The profitability of feed supplements depends on the carry-over response of having cows in milk when it rains (the longer the drought, the lower the response) and the cost of supplement relative to milk price.
When feeding supplements ensure that stock have enough water as the demand may increase. Consider providing water in the yards to reduce the demand on troughs in the paddock after milking.
Seek professional advice before using unfamiliar feed mixes on your stock.
Consider milking once-a-day (OAD)
Milking OAD or once every 16 hours are good options to take the pressure off cows when feed supply is limited. OAD does reduce the stress on cows walking to the shed, and can increase the time available for feeding out. The impact on milk production will be dependent on the production of the cows, their genetic merit and the feed available.
Review the plan
Monitor your farm and rainfall
Review the plan every week to 10 days (rainfall, feed cover, supplement, production).
Check cow condition regularly (every 3-4 weeks), particularly the 2 and 3 year olds, and dry them off based on their condition score and days from calving, feed available, winter pasture growth rates and expected calving date.
- For more information on Body Condition Scoring click here
Check long-range weather forecasts:
- Click here for MetService's 10 day forecast for your region
Have a plan to manage eczema spores and start intervention in anticipation of eczema spores rising. After rain, eczema spores love fresh green grass.
- Farmfact: Facial Eczema - treatment and prevention (3-6)
- Farmfact: Facial eczema - zinc treatment recipes and dose rates (3-7)
Set up for next season
Dry-off more of the herd if required
Would it be profitable to keep milking a proportion of your best producers and graze the rest off? Or would it be better to dry off the whole herd and manage them all on your own property? How will you maintain or improve their condition so that next season's production is not affected?
Ask for help if you need it
During the high stress period of a drought it is more important than ever to look after people on-farm. This includes the farm owners and managers as well their farm team. It can be a real help to talk to others and find out how they are dealing with the situation, such as neighbours, consultants or your local discussion group.
It is important to maintain staff morale:
- Lead by example - if you have a positive attitude your staff will too
- Look forwards not backwards - start planning ahead for the next season and set short and long-term targets. Involve your staff
- Participate in local discussion groups or events. Take some of your staff with you
- Create team building opportunities e.g. registering your team in a local sporting activity can be fun and relaxing
- Celebrate special events or achievements e.g. have a BBQ for someone's birthday.
If the drought worsens, talk to advisers. Consult DairyNZ staff or Farmer Information Service and other drought-savvy advisers, and keep in touch with feed suppliers and dairy company reps. Talk to Federated Farmers, your Rural Support Trust and check in with your accountant and bank manager.
- DairyNZ Farmer Information Service: 0800 4 DAIRYNZ (0800 4 324 7969)
- Farmers of New Zealand: 09 439 5219
In extremes, seek emergency assistance
Federated Farmers, DairyNZ or other agencies may be able to help you find emergency feed or grazing off the property. If you do make sure you have a written grazing contract so that you and the grazer know what is expected of each.