By March, you've put a lot of effort into getting good crop yields, selecting the right paddocks, planting crops, applying fertiliser – and hoping the weather plays ball.
However, a successful winter crop plan should also take into account feeding cows safely, environmental impacts and cow welfare requirements. Experienced farmers tell us they start working with their teams early (as in, now) to develop and implement a successful crop grazing management plan.
Feed cows effectively and safely
Check your animals’ body condition score (BCS) now to see if they’re on track to reach target (5.0 for mixed-age cows and 5.5 for heifers) at calving. Cows with good condition can withstand the cold better, as the fat layer beneath their skin provides insulation. For lighter cows, consider once-a-day milking in autumn or drying off lighter cows early to minimise BCS gain needed in winter.
Armed with BCS information, create winter feed budgets for different mobs to reach BCS targets at calving.
It’s not too late to finish your set-up of the crop paddock for grazing. Remember to:
- use a long crop face, allowing all cows to access feed at the same time
- place supplement now to minimise tractor movements during winter
- provide access to water throughout winter, including portable water troughs
- fence off critical source areas (CSAs) on sloping paddocks. CSAs are low-lying areas where run-off accumulates. Leave CSAs ungrazed, or graze them only when dry.
Reduce mud and run-off
To reduce pugging and surface run-off, consider:
- shifting break fencing once or twice daily, rather than every few days, to reduce trampling and feed wastage
- back-fencing and using a portable water trough to minimise animal movements and pugging
- having an area of dry ground for cows during very wet weather
- strategically grazing downhill on sloping paddocks, to minimise surface run-off into CSAs.
Consider cow welfare
It’s important to take care when transitioning cows on and off crops. Cows require a gradual increase in crop intake so the microbes in their rumen can adapt. Plan regular checks with your team to identify signs of illness, loss of BCS, lameness or down or lethargic cows, especially during the cows’ transition onto crop.
Lastly, cows need at least eight hours of lying time per day. This reduces their risk of lameness and stress, which leads to better overall welfare and BCS gain. Manage crop feeding to minimise pugging and use dry ground for cows to lie down on in adverse weather.
This article was originally published in Inside Dairy March 2020