Wednesday, 12 September 2018 12:16

Are your cows in deep mud?

Written by  Pam Tipa
When wet weather sets in, farmers need to move their stock to a dry area of the farm. When wet weather sets in, farmers need to move their stock to a dry area of the farm.

If farmers feel winter hasn’t gone as well as it could have and sometimes the cows were in deep mud, then now is a good time to review their wintering plans, says DairyNZ animal care team leader Helen Thoday.

September is when contractors will come out and drill for the next year, Thoday told Dairy News.

“If your contractor is about to come out, have a chat to your DairyNZ consultant or your vet. Maybe think about which paddock you are going to drill. There might be a better one with better soil types and better shelter,” she advises.

DairyNZ’s website or consultants are good for information on management of winter cropping, she says. Farmers would once have gone to their seed companies or agronomy groups for such information on how to grow crops.

“It would be great if farmers could consider us for the management of the crop. We would be keen for farmers to come to us for that information.”

Thoday says farmers may not believe DairyNZ has this knowledge because it may not be their source of information on growing the crop. Not so.

“We have a Cows on Crop section online.”

She says DairyNZ has for years shared information on how to manage dairy cows and young stocks on crops. It knows most farmers get DairyNZ’s messages and have animal care at the heart of their businesses.

“We feel these excessive mud situations are not the norm... that there can be too much mud, and no farmers want this. Having the understanding of how to resolve it is where we can help.”

DairyNZ’s information is based on extensive research in Southland. 

“We have information and advice on our website that all dairy farmers are encouraged to access to help alleviate concerns about cows in mud.

“Putting cows on crops over winter is a long-standing practice for providing high energy feed to all livestock over winter -- not just dairy cows. 

“Deer, sheep, the beef sector and the dairy sector all utilise cropping as a winter feed source when grass growth is slow, or in the South Island when it doesn’t grow at all over winter. 

“We all understand and want animals living outdoors to express their natural behaviour but there are challenges to livestock being outdoors over winter.... We know weather changes daily and in some parts of New Zealand it feels like you can get four seasons in one day.

“The soil type and topography of the paddocks the cattle are on also changes as the cattle move across them. When the weather and soil type come together to give a mud risk – i.e. heavier soils, wetter areas with wet weather combined – farmers need to move their cattle to another area of the farm that is dry. Then the cows have a dry lying area and shelter as well.

“That is what farmers should do if the weather is against them, particularly in an area of a paddock that could end up excessively muddy.”

There are two parts to the cows-in-mud story: whether they have had to walk through mud to access their feed and/or whether they are permanently in deep mud, Thoday says.

“Neither of those is what farmers want so it is important to either offer stock somewhere else to feed where they don’t have to walk through mud or offer them somewhere else to lie other then in deep mud. 

“Cows love lying down, it is a big driver for them more than any other type of livestock. It is important farmers offer them somewhere dry and comfortable to lie. And wet conditions cause their hooves to get soft, making them more prone to lameness.

“Also the mud will be cold and wet and we all want to avoid that because if it gets on the main part of their body they will get a bit colder when the weather turns. Just as when our mothers told us to dry our hair before we went outside or we would catch a cold, so we want animals to be as dry as possible.

“Farmers who have thought this through -- ‘is there anywhere I can take them?’ – are probably on farms that have some off-paddock facility, whether that is a barn or a standoff pad. That is the reality for some farmers. 

“Some farmers’ cattle will go somewhere else for winter because the farm is too wet. They go off to the grazier.”

Consumers also have a day

People overseas have a growing interest in the practices behind their food, says Thoday.

“I don’t think New Zealand is being singled out and I don’t think the NZ dairy industry is being singled out,” she says.

“I think this is a genuine passion. We are all interested in where our food comes from and the practices that the food producers operate under are the best they can be and that someone is looking out and checking that those practices are good. 

“In the modern world, the public and advocacy groups and governments also have a part to play in upholding the rules and regulations. It’s not just the rules and regulations now, it is the public and groups that advocate for what they are passionate about.

“I don’t think NZ is any different from anywhere else in that respect in the western world.”


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