As June marks the official start of winter, farm teams across New Zealand are preparing for the onset of cold weather, with a focus on keeping cows dry, comfortable and well-fed .
Dean Rabbidge, a Southland dairy, sheep and cattle farmer, says farmers rely on winter crops to ensure animals get through winter healthy before calving.
“During the winter, grass growth slows down and doesn’t provide enough food or nutrition for the cows, so they graze on winter crops like fodder beets, rutabagas or kale,” says Rabbidge.
He started preparing for winter last November.
“Selecting the right pen is key to providing livestock with access to shelter and water. It’s also important to have a detailed feed budget to know how much feed we need for each animal. .”
Farmers in Southland faced a tough autumn last year due to drought, but Rabbidge managed to overcome this by bringing in extra feed.
In case of bad weather, he plans to move the animals to shelter under the trees and feed them with hay (preserved pasture).
“This will give them a dry, sheltered and warm place to lie down,” says Rabbidge.
The farm team discussed different scenarios to understand when to move cattle to keep them comfortable and sheltered from the elements.
On the west coast of the South Island, dairy farmers Dan and Kate King are focused on applying the lessons learned last winter to continue to improve animal care.
From June to December 2021, their district received 1800 mm of rain – compared to 1900 mm of normal annual rainfall.
“Last winter went relatively well, but constant rains in the spring, along with calving cows, damaged pastures and put pressure on feed and supplements. So we planned ahead in case it rains a lot again this winter,” says Dan King. .
The kings ordered about 270 bales of meadow hay, in addition to winter crops. They have also made 200 bales of fodder to distribute when needed over the coming year.
“Having extra feed puts us in a strong position to deal with any adverse conditions and keep the cows in good condition,” says King.
Giving cows enough time to lie down is also a priority. The Kings use back fences and portable waterers so the cows don’t have to travel far for food and water. This reduces mud, creating a better environment for cows and reducing sediment loss to waterways.
The Kings are also planting 140 trees this year to provide more shelter for cows in hot and cold weather.
DairyNZ South Island manager Tony Finch says farmers have worked hard to improve overwintering practices and winter planning.
“Last season, about 90% of farmers had a contingency plan to protect their animals and the environment in case of bad weather,” says Finch.
“It’s great for farmers to have their efforts to improve winter grazing recognized by councils and government. It helps fuel their commitment to continue improving animal care and wintering practices.”