Your goal in winter is to set up both your cows and your farm for a productive spring. Wintering policies usually cover feed and environment, but the needs of the cow are not always spelled out. By being clear, you can ensure everyone involved understands what is required around animal care. Your wintering plan and goals for your herd will benefit from having input from your vet.
The wintering taskforce (which was set up to identify where improvements could be made to animal welfare during periods of intensive winter grazing provided) provided clarity on what animals need over winter. These needs should be included in wintering policies.
These needs are
- Avoid calving on crop
- Provide convenient access to clean water
- Provide a balanced diet (crop/supplement/minerals)
- Protect stock during storms
- Avoid mass deaths from poor feed management
- Provide a comfortable lying surface
Policy: The goal we set on our farm e.g we ensure our cows calve in the right environment.
Procedure: The steps we take to ensure our goal is met e.g. we use timed pregnancy diagnosis and draft mobs 2 weeks before planed start of calving.
If you currently do not have a wintering plan start by watching the Creating a Wintering Plan video.
If your stock go off-farm to be wintered you share you are still responsible for their welfare with the person in charge at the grazing block. Discuss the topics in this document with your grazier and add specifics to the contract where appropriate.
Policies and procedures
Avoid calving on crop
Policy: we ensure our cows calve in the right environment.
- What we do with a slip or early calver (include actions to take for cow and calf).
- If feeding fodder beet, detail how you observe springing udders since cows might not bag up as much.
- How you use calving dates.
- The process of drafting out cows and returning them to calving paddocks.
Timed pregnancy diagnosis allows you to be well organised by identifying the animals closest to calving to come back to the milking platform first. Talk to your vet about adopting this.
Provision of water
Policy: Our animals have convenient access to clean water.
- What troughs are to be used and how, including any cleaning/tipping routines.
Provision of a balanced diet
Policy: We provide access to a balanced diet.
- Your crop types and aims for body condition,
- What daily feed allowance is provided, and the levels of crop included in the total feed allowance. (Fodder beet should be no more than 60 -70% and Kale no more than 80% inclusion).
- What, how, and when minerals are provided.
- Ensuring all cows can access supplement easily by having enough ring feeders or any supplement fed on the ground is over a long area.
- Additional information on break feeding and daily feeding routines staff must carry out in the paddock.
Your vets can provide advice on minerals, including working with blood results to ensure the right minerals are fed to ensure value for money.
See the Fodder Beet Transitioning page for guidelines and resources.
Avoid mass deaths
Policy: We avoid deaths during transition and breakouts because of power outages.
- How you safely transition your stock on to crops.
- How to check and deal with power outages or low voltage.
- How you prevent breakouts with hot standards, safety fences or high voltage during transition.
- When you expect team members to call the manager/owner or the vet because health issues have been identified.
- Dead stock procedures.
For information on what to consider when using fodder beet see the Fodder beet page.
Protect stock during storms
Policy: We protect our stock during adverse events.
- List the situations you think are adverse for your region over winter.
- Outline anything you do differently for different stock classes e.g. R1s.
- What management changes do you make on farm before and during the storm - any shelter provision, stock movements, changes in feeding levels, checks on power, and staff health and safety.
Policy: We provide a comfortable lying surface for all stock.
Persistent rain over several days requires similar management to an adverse weather event.
For your wintering paddocks define what is comfortable for your cows, or if it easier, define what is uncomfortable.
- Example definitions of comfortable; crumbly mud, gum boot score of 1
- Examples definitions of uncomfortable; sloppy wet mud, gum boot score 3
Describe how you manage the herd and paddock when it becomes uncomfortable.
- Examples maybe; divide the daily feed allowance into more breaks to ensure animals are moving forward on to un-pugged or fresh ground.
- Remove the back fence to allow cows to access drier areas or shelter somewhere else in the paddock.
- Moving cows out of the paddock to drier paddocks or dedicated areas on the farm such as tussock blocks, shelter belts and forestry lanes and off paddock facilities.
*Lanes and yards do not provide a comfortable lying surface.
Minimising the challenges around cow comfort and environmental management begins well before winter, with selecting the right paddock for planting. Building a policy on how you select paddocks to ensure animal and environmental good management practices are met is easier than having policies that fix challenges which could have been prevented.
General polices to ensure animal welfare
You might like to include some other goals that set out general expectations around animal welfare on your farm:
- Keep groups stable as much as possible. Cows find mob changes stressful.
- During winter, draft at-risk animals and give them the appropriate treatment.
- Ensure continuity of staff who check the cows, so they become more aware of what is ‘normal’ for that mob and have a higher chance of noticing problems early on.
For more information on wintering including tips and tricks see Wintering cows on crops.