The lasting effects of the drought are seen by Rural Contractors NZ board members as a bigger challenge for contractors and farmers than COVID-19.
“Many farmers, particularly in Southland and Otago, choose to break feed stock on crop over the winter months,” she says.
“It’s a great way to provide food for animals and protect pastures, but it requires careful planning and good stockmanship to avoid welfare risks that wet weather can bring.
“New Zealand’s codes of animal welfare require livestock to have access to areas free of surface water and mud, and appropriate shelter from adverse weather.
“Animals will refuse to lie down on wet ground and can then become stressed, stop eating and are more susceptible to lameness.”
Farmers can mitigate risks to animal welfare in winter in various ways.
“If there is a spell of extreme weather or prolonged wet conditions, you may need to move your stock off the crop to drier land, and you should plan for this possibility. Having a ‘plan B’ is the key.
“Clean drinking water must be available for animals at all times. Owners are still responsible for the welfare of their stock while they are off farm for winter grazing and should check on the conditions, including their access to shelter and water.
“When transitioning from pasture to crop and back again, stock can be negatively affected. Following a gradual transition plan when moving animals will prevent issues.”
MPI recommends talking to your vet for help with planning and any animal health concerns. Resources to help farmers with their winter grazing management are available online from DairyNZ and Beef + Lamb NZ.
Tony Finch, DairyNZ’s head of South Island farm performance, says many dairy farmers in cooler regions feed cows crop over winter, such as fodder beet, kale or swede, when grass growth is very slow. These energy dense feeds help keep cows in good condition.
“The challenge is that grazing crops in wet weather produces mud. If not managed carefully, the exposed soil is at risk of nutrient and top soil run-off into waterways,” he says.
While good management practices can help minimise mud, preventing it completely isn’t possible. If there’s heavy rain, or a period of consistent rain, there will be some mud on farm.
“But careful management can make a huge difference in limiting the amount of mud to ensure cows have a dry surface to lie down and move freely, and to reduce the impact on the environment.
“The pictures and video of cows in deep mud that appeared in news media last year were unacceptable.
“That isn’t the norm on dairy farms and I hope we don’t see any incidents like that again this year. But those farmers are the exception, and most are doing a great job wintering their cows on crop.”
Finch says DairyNZ widely promotes good management practices, particularly in Southland and South Otago, where soil type and weather conditions can make wintering cows on crop more challenging.
“We’re reminding farmers this winter to reduce the impact of a wet spell by using portable troughs, back fencing and keeping cows out of critical source areas (low-lying areas where water can pool or flow after heavy rain).
“Farmers must adjust their herd size, graze paddocks that are prone to be wetter or have heavier soils earlier in the season, and have a Plan B. These are just a few of the many things farmers do to mitigate the risk of mud.