Wet Weather Management


7 min read

Key wet weather challenges Strategies for wet weather Planning for future wet weather Other sources Podcast

Prolonged wet weather poses challenges to normal farming activities by saturating soils. This page provides information on managing the impact of wet weather on dairy farming. It covers key areas such as stress management, minimising damage to soil and pasture, protecting animal health, managing pasture cover and feed intake, and ensuring effluent and compliance risk management. Strategies include on/off grazing, strategic paddock selection, and magnesium supplementation for stressed cows. There's also guidance on how to look after yourself and others, with various support and contact details provided for adverse weather support and further assistance.

Prolonged wet weather can saturate soils, affecting the ability of farmers to farm as they would normally. This page contains information and advice on dealing with wet weather.

For adverse weather support call 0800 4 DAIRYNZ

Key wet weather challenges

  • Stress management
  • Minimising pugging damage
  • Feed management
  • Animal health
  • Effluent management

Strategies for wet weather management

Looking after yourself and other people

Make sure people are your number one priority. Look after yourself and your team, check in on your contract or sharemilkers, and your farming family, friends, and neighbours.

Looking after the animals and getting the farm back on track requires you to be doing well first. If you are feeling stressed make sure you reach out and talk to someone, there is plenty of support available – check out Where to get help.

Sometimes a stressful situation such as this can be the last straw for someone already under pressure. If you think you, a staff member or farming colleague are in this camp, contact your GP or health professional or the Rural Support Trust as soon as possible for advice.

Minimising soil and pasture damage

The key to getting through a wet spell, especially during early lactation, is to avoid pasture damage at all cost.

On/off grazing is the most effective grazing strategy for wet weather

Pugging paddocks now will reduce feed in the next round and the rest of the season. Pasture production in pugged paddocks is reduced by 25-30% because of reduced clover and N fixation, reduced earthworm population and reduced drainage.

Cows can consume their daily intake in 6-8 hours so can be stood off paddock if necessary to avoid damage. Alternatively, stand cows off paddocks during the day and let them graze at night.

Cows need to lie for at least 8 hours a day. If lying is restricted they will lie in preference to grazing when put onto pasture, resulting in underfeeding.

Places to stand cows off include - custom-built stand-off pad, races (confine cows to limit damage), paddocks that have been identified for regrassing, yards, waste area. Ensure they have enough space to lie down - at least 3.5m2 per cow if on woodchip, sand or concrete for up to two days; at least 5m2 on woodchip or sand for more than two days; and 8m2 if on crops or feed-out paddock.

E.g: a 400-cow yard would only accommodate 200 cows as a standoff area.

Make sure the stand-off surface, particularly concrete, is kept free of stones, as the cows feet will be extremely soft and susceptible to damage. A footbath with zinc or copper sulphate or formalin could be used to harden the feet, but start this early and keep it clean.

Graze paddocks strategically

  • Make breaks as square as possible to help reduce pasture and pugging damage. Back fence to prevent stock from back grazing and causing further damage.
  • Walk the cows over long pasture. Long grass gives protection when stock or vehicles are driven over it.
  • Graze the back of paddocks first or set up temporary laneways to prevent cows from walking back over a grazed section of paddock.
  • Move the cows in and out of different gateways to reduce the damage caused. You can also drop the wires between paddocks to avoid walking over grazed areas.

Minimise disturbances to stock

Where possible, stay away from stock in wet conditions as disturbed stock tend to pace.

  • Use 24-hour grazing rather than 12-hour grazing to increase the area the stock is spread over and reduce how often you disturb them.
  • Feed out before cows go onto the break or into the paddock.
  • Shift stock before daybreak and at the same time of day if possible, as stock movement will increase after daybreak, especially if they are hungry.
  • Set up tomorrow’s break today.

Selecting paddocks for standing cows off

If you don’t have stand-off facilities and need to use a sacrifice paddock, consider the following factors for selecting low-risk paddocks during this wet weather:

  • Ideally, select a paddock with no waterway. If there is a waterway, have a minimum of a 5m buffer around the waterway.
  • Fence off critical source areas such as gullies and swales (low-lying parts of a paddock that collect rainfall runoff) to keep stock out.
  • Select paddocks with the lowest slope possible.
  • If break-feeding, graze towards the waterway or swale.
  • Select paddocks that are not visible from the road.
  • Don't calve on these paddocks.
  • Ensure stock have water.

Protecting animal health

Mastitis and lameness

Mastitis and lameness pose the most immediate health risks to livestock during prolonged periods of wet conditions.

  • Make sure all lameness prevention measures are in place e.g. gentle handling, alternative milking intervals.
  • Consider alternative milking intervals (e.g. OAD, 3 times in 2 days) to take the pressure off light and lame cows.
  • If standing cows on the yard, make sure it is free of stones.
  • Mastitis prevention: focus on teat condition, and keep the emollient level up in the teat spray.
  • If practical, run the dry cows through the shed every 3 days for teat spraying.
  • Talk to your vet about any animal health concerns.
  • Magnesium is critical. Be aware cows will not be drinking as much if adding Mg to the water supply and utilisation of Mg dusted onto pasture may be reduced.
  • For more information visit managing mastitis or the lameness section of the website.


Magnesium is a critical mineral especially when cows are stressed and at calving. It is difficult in the wet to achieve the target magnesium intake using dusting. Consider other methods of providing magnesium to both eliminate the job of dusting and ensure the cows are getting enough magnesium.

Preventing down cows is good for the cow and for people – one down cow can take the same time to care for as milking a herd of cows.

Other methods of providing magnesium are:

  • If you are already feeding silage add mag oxide at 50 g/cow Mag Oxide allowing for wastage.
  • If you feed in-shed, have magnesium added to the mix prior to delivery to save you a job. Exclude calcium so that you can also feed it to the springers via PKE bins.
  • Dust colostrum breaks with at least 300 g/cow lime flour in the wet.
  • If still having issues with metabolics, consider using a starter drench as they calve. Some products will give 7-10 days protection from one dose at calving.

Managing pasture cover and feed intake

Pasture walk or drive to establish the feed situation. If average pasture cover is less than required prior to calving (typically 2200-2400kg DM/ha), the priority is preserving pasture cover, and not using pasture to increase BCS. Aim to get pasture cover to at least 2100 kg DM/ha and no lower than 2000 kg DM/ha.

This is because when pasture cover is low, growth rates are reduced as fewer leaves are capturing light.

If pasture cover is very low, aim to keep it above 2100 kg DM/ha and no lower than 2000 kg DM/ha.

This will require holding cows to a set area and moving them off to prevent widespread plugging.

It is easier to hold dry cows on a tight pasture rotation length than lactating cows so slow the rotation as quickly as possible. Speeding up the round (offering cows a larger area) can result in less pasture being available next round. If you increase the area offered, be prepared to feed more supplements next round.

  • Use extra supplement to hold or extend round.
  • Update feed budget and monitor amount of supplement on hand.
  • Feed out before cows go onto the break or into the paddock (less walking around the break).
  • Take care when changing cows’ diets, and slowly introduce them to differing feed types and quantities. Take special care with grain and avoid feeding too much too quickly. Increase at no more than 1kg per day and only after the cows have been eating 1kg grain for at least 5 days.

As calving progresses, prioritise animals based on which require the best feeding:

  1. Colostrums (Additional information below: Understand the transition cow)
  2. Milkers
  3. Springers
  4. Dries – maintenance only

Tools to utilise: Spring Rotation Planner Tool and DairyNZ feed budgets

Reducing milking frequency to ease workload and limit BCS loss

If you and your team are struggling to get everything done, consider milking OAD for the first 3 weeks and review or flexible milking for 3-6 weeks, or all season. Many farmers already implement OAD during calving to help ease the workload.

Although you might forgo some production by going OAD or flexible milking, also consider the benefits. With already low average pasture covers, unless you can buy in plenty of supplement feed, milking twice a day is likely to result in further body condition loss and increase the risk of metabolic issues.

In 2022, farms with very low pasture cover (<2000 kg DM/ha) for all of spring reported they were still able to achieve good mating results by milking OAD and feeding as well as possible. When pasture cover is very low, feed supply will be the major limitation to milk production, not milking frequency.

For more information head to Early lactation once-a-day (OAD) milking or Flexible milking.

Managing effluent and compliance risk

If the recent weather event has resulted in your pond levels getting to a full space and you are at risk of non-compliance it is recommended that you:

  • Call the council to discuss the situation. This is better than council coming without you discussing the situation or trying to hide it.
  • If you must irrigate, pick your driest paddocks to irrigate preventing any direct discharge to surface water, run at faster rates and utilise stormwater diversion.
  • Council will assess each breach on its merits which look to management, foreseeable, speed to react and intent to do your best etc.

Best practice management year-round, adequate storage, and keeping a good working volume available for situations like the recent weather will ideally enable you to get through these weather events without concern of non-compliance.

Planning for future wet weather

You can increase your resilience for future wet spells by carefully planning for the various possibilities. The planning process involves how to feed cows and how you will manage the financial implications. Visit the business planning page for more information.

Other sources of information and assistance

Podcast: Wet weather management

Rain, rain, rain. How are other dairy farmers managing their way through this exceptionally wet winter? Hear from Hauraki Plains farm owner John Garrett, Cambridge farm owner Marc Gascoigne, and Northland herd owning sharemilker Carl MacDonald, who explain how they're trying to minimise soil damage while still adequately feeding the cows. They discuss round lengths, cow comfort, team morale, mental health, lessons from previous wet winters, and more.

Listen on:

Last updated: Aug 2023

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