Traditionally, July brings chilly temperatures, wet weather and an increased risk of snow. To help farmers stay on top of these challenging conditions, Southland dairy farmer Ewen and Hawke’s Bay sheep farmer Ben are sharing their experiences of managing winter grazing.
Speaking on a DairyNZ podcast, both Ewen and Ben agree that planning ahead, developing contingency plans, and carrying out daily checks are key to providing good animal care, protecting the environment and minimising stress for people and animals over winter.
“Having a wintering plan helps identify risks like slopes, water sources, and different soil types which helps us to plan our winter grazing to reduce the risk of contaminant and sediment runoff,” says Ewen.
“Planning allows us to think through the different scenarios that could occur over winter and prepare for them. It helps reduce stress and allows you to get a better night’s sleep,” adds Ben.
Ewen has developed small sawdust pads on his farm to provide cows with a comfortable space to move to and lie on in bad weather.
“Cows need to be able to lie down while they are digesting feed,” Ewen explains. “They need to express their natural behaviours and lying is an important part of this.”
“With the new regulations coming in next winter, North Island farmers also need to have a wintering plan and understand how practices affect the environment. We developed our plan for this year and are still learning about our impact,” says Ben.
Ewen says a particular focus on his farm is checking animals regularly – once or even twice daily.
“This helps us catch issues early so that small issues don’t escalate into bigger problems.”
DairyNZ’s head of the South Island, Tony Finch, says during July and August the weather can be very cold and unpredictable, and farmers need to keep up their focus on caring for stock right to the end of winter.
“Daily checks on the weather forecast, paddock conditions and cows are all vital to protect your herd. You can use the gumboot test to check that the ground is suitable for cows to lie on. Planning ahead is also key to ensure that cows don’t calve on mud.”
Last winter, 89 percent of farmers developed a contingency plan to protect their animals and the environment in bad weather.
Mr Finch says it’s not too late for farmers to develop a Plan B if adverse weather strikes, using DairyNZ’s template. “If you do have a Plan B, check your team understand when to action it.”
Beef + Lamb New Zealand’s environmental policy manager Heather McKay says the wintering grazing module in Beef +Lamb NZ’s farm plan will help farmers identify risks and take action to mitigate them.
“Both Ben and Ewen stress the importance of having a plan in place to protect their livestock and soil and water resources. We encourage all farmers who are intensively grazing to follow their lead and use the resources available to develop a plan and take the stress out of winter grazing.”