Planning for a successful 2020 winter starts now
Careful planning in spring is an important part of successful wintering – and it starts with choosing the right paddocks to grow winter crops in, says DairyNZ South Island lead, Tony Finch.
“Choosing your paddocks is a crucial part of planning for winter. Critical source areas, water-ways, shelter, water troughs and being prepared for prolonged weather events all need to be taken into account when selecting a paddock,” said Mr Finch.
Critical source areas are low lying parts of a farm, such as gullies and swales, where water flows after rain events. These areas can transport soil, E.coli and phosphorus into waterways. Pad-docks with multiple slopes and large critical source areas are best avoided for winter crop grazing, as they are time-consuming to graze and present an environmental risk.
“Strategic grazing and careful management of critical source areas resulted in an 80 to 90 percent reduction in sediment and phosphorus losses in a 2012-2014 trial at Telford Dairy,” said Tony.
“Creating buffer zones or grass strips in and around critical source areas and next to waterways helps slow water flows and trap contaminants. These buffer zones should be left uncultivated and ungrazed to be effective. “The faster water flows in a buffer zone, the wider the zone needs to be.”
“There are a number of things to consider when planning how to fence the paddock and position feed and water troughs. Using portable troughs reduces the amount of walking cows need to do, decreasing soil damage and mud.”
Cow lying time is another factor to consider when planning for winter. “Correct lying times, at least eight hours a day, reduce the risk of lameness and stress on the animal. On a winter break-fed pad-dock, consider how your cows will have access to enough dry areas to lie down.”
“The South Island can experience periods of extreme winter weather, such as snow and heavy rainfall, so it’s essential to have another grazing option. This could involve moving cows to a sheltered area or leaving an ungrazed area next to a shelter belt for bad weather. It’s also a good idea to allow a feed buffer in your budget to account for extra feeding on cold, wet or windy days.”
Alongside other organisations, DairyNZ has provided events over the past few weeks for farmers, rural professionals and rural contractors to upskill themselves on good wintering practices.
“There’s been a lot of focus on winter grazing practices recently. As a result of this, there has been strong attendance at wintering events as everyone is keen to improve their knowledge. Successful wintering is good for the cows, the environment and the people involved.” For more advice on planning for winter grazing visit dairynz.co.nz/wintering
DairyNZ is encouraging farmers to check they meet new minimum standards included in an amended Dairy Cattle Code of Welfare. The code has been recently amended by the Ministry for Primary Industries and the changes took effect from 31 October 2019.Many of the changes relate to requirements in off-paddock facilities.
Around 40% of farms use off paddock facilities and these are mostly used to feed cows when grass growth is limited. There are a range of off-paddock facilities being used in New Zealand including barns, feed pads and stand-off pads. These facilities can provide environmental and animal health benefits.
For farmers with off-paddock facilities:
• where cows are wintered on hard surfaces (like stones or concrete) with no soft lying area, a compressible surface (like rubber) needs to be available for cows to lie on
• calving cows on hard surfaces like concrete or stones must have a dry, non-slip covering such as straw or rubber matting. The amount of effluent build-up on the surface must also be managed
• calving cows in off-paddock facilities must have enough space to separate themselves from the herd• wood chip pad facilities with no roof must have drainage that minimises ponding, to provide enough comfortable space for cows to lie down
• where concrete feed pads are used in wet weather and cows are kept on feed pads for most of the day for several days, some access to drier paddocks must be provided every day. As an alternative, farmers can also use rubber matting if the feed pad is used regularly to reduce pugging.
“The new minimum standards are designed to allow cows to express natural behaviours, such as lying comfortably, in all types of environments,” says Helen Thoday, animal care team leader at DairyNZ.
“Cows find surfaces with moisture levels higher than about 75% uncomfortable to lie down on. In a paddock, that level is about when you will see water in your gum boot prints,” she says.DairyNZ will be working with farmers who winter cows on crop paddocks to find on-farm solutions to meet this requirement.