Paddock selection should consider the risks of each paddock around cow welfare and the environment, and if these risks can be minimised. If the risks of a paddock are too difficult to minimise, then it would be best to avoid this paddock for forage crops.
If a paddock is unsuitable for forage crops, but needs its pasture to be renewed, other options include sowing pasture to pasture, or cut and carry crops.
Check regional council rules for your area, as these may affect your wintering decisions.
The combined effect of low temperatures, rain, wind, and mud on the coat of the cow can result in cold stress. Providing shelter will lower the impact of cold stress therefore reduce the demand for extra feed for heat production.
To be adequate, shelter should provide protection from the prevailing winter wind direction. It will need to be long enough to protect all the cows.
If a paddock does not provide adequate shelter, there are management solutions available.
Read about trees for shelter for information about planning and establishing shelter.
Water trough access
Cows must always have access to water. Water can be provided by either permanent or portable water troughs. If water provision during the winter grazing regime is not possible to manage, the paddock must not be used.
If possible, select paddocks with soils less susceptible to pugging or compaction; this will reduce soil structure damage that could potentially lower subsequent crop or pasture yield.
If you do not have any light soils on your farm, consider doing a cost-benefit analysis of wintering on vs. wintering off. When doing this, it is important to consider the long-term effect on soil structure that wintering on will have.
If paddocks with heavier soils are used, these should be grazed during the driest part of winter. Another option is to graze smaller animals in these paddocks.
Most sediment and phosphorous is lost from relatively small areas on-farm; these areas are known as critical source areas (CSAs).
CSAs are low-lying parts of farms such as gullies and swales, where overland flow and seepage converges to form small channels of running water, which may then transport soil and phosphorous into waterways.
There are CSA management strategies available, but it is recommended to remove paddocks with large or multiple CSAs from the cropping rotation as management is difficult.
Paddocks that are a greater distance from waterways reduce the risk of contaminants reaching a waterway. If the paddock you select is near a waterway you can reduce the contaminant risk by using buffer zones and CSA management strategies, or remove the paddock from the cropping rotation.
The greater the slope in a paddock, the greater the risk of surface runoff. Be aware that paddocks with steep slopes require larger buffer zones than flat paddocks.
Fencing off steep CSAs (see photo left) will go a long way in reducing sediment and nutrient loss to waterways.
Soil test results
Soil test paddocks to identify fertility levels and define crop fertiliser requirements.
The pH must be at least 5.6, but ideally between 5.8 and 6.2. If the pH is too far from the optimum, choose another paddock this year, as pH takes six months to correct.
If planting a brassica, paddocks should have low soil sulphate levels to reduce the risk of SMCO poisoning.
Fodder beet is very sensitive to residual chemicals. If the paddock has recently been cropped, and herbicide or residual sprays were used then the paddock may not be suitable for fodder beet. Keep a record of sprays used in each paddock, and check with your crop advisor.
Previous paddock history
A wild turnip infestation in a previous crop eliminates all brassicas (turnips, kale, swedes, rape) as crop options, because the turnips cannot be sprayed out.
If club root or dry rot were present in previous crops, swedes or turnips cannot be planted. To prevent/ limit club root or dry rot infection, keep a five-year interval between brassica crops even when using varieties tolerant to these diseases.
Distance to cow shed (Transitioning)
Try to select a paddock close to the cowshed to reduce walking distance. Increased walking distances increase risk of lameness, the cows use more energy, and it takes longer to move the herd.
Consider choosing a more regular shaped paddock for your transitioning paddock, as it is easier to get the allocation correct in these paddocks compared with an irregularly shaped paddock.
It is recommended to leave six metres of pasture between the fence and the feed face of the crop, so that there is enough space for the cows to move around in the first break. Alternatively, harvest the first six metres of crop with a bucket and carry it to the cows.