At one time or another most of us have lost a gumboot in the mud.
No matter how well you manage your crop, or pasture, if it’s a wet winter it’s inevitable there’s going to be some mud.
But there are a number of simple things you can do to help keep mud to a minimum, protect your paddocks and keep your cows comfortable.
Many of you are doing a great job to ensure this happens, but we believe it’s an area we need to continue improving to ensure we’re leading the way in animal care and doing our best for the environment.
So, what should we be focusing on?
One of the easiest ways you can reduce the impact of a wet spell or heavy rain on your paddocks and cows is through focusing your efforts on good grazing management.
This includes back fencing, using portable troughs, staying out of critical source areas (CSAs), adjusting your mob size to the paddock, and grazing paddocks that tend to get wetter, or have heavier soils, when the conditions are more suitable.
These small changes can make a big impact. A trial at Telford Research Farm found protection of CSAs and strategic grazing management reduced soil and phosphorous loss by a whopping 80 to 90 percent.
Offering thin, long faced breaks rather than blocks is also good practice. This ensures all cows can access crop and limit the amount of damage to soils and increase crop utilisation.
When determining how you will break feed your paddocks, keep in mind that cows find grazing downhill more difficult as the slope interrupts their natural grazing position. If you decide to graze your cows downhill, check utilisation levels, provide cows more time to eat and expect a little more wastage.
It’s also important your cows can lie down for at least eight hours a day, so in the event of a wet spell make sure you have options to ensure they have a suitable surface to lie down. Options include paddocks that have been identified for regrassing, drier paddocks, or stand-off pads.
As you all know, wintering cows on crop is complex. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach as each of you will have your own set of challenges depending on your region, climate, soil type, topography and shelter.
While the weather is out of our hands, if you prepare, and follow good management practice you’ll be in a better position to face whatever this winter has in store.
For more information on how to manage your paddocks and mitigate mud this winter visit dairynz.co.nz/wintering.
Limit mud by focusing on the basics
Southland farmers Maurice and Suzanne Hanning use a range of tactics to keep mud to a minimum in winter – from back fencing and portable troughs to even selecting smaller cows for their farm.
The couple have been dairy farming near Invercargill since 2011, when they converted the former sheep and beef farm which has been in Maurice’s family for close to 150 years.
They selected smaller Kiwi-cross cows for their herd to help protect the soils in their paddocks.
“Instead of making the property suit the animal, we decided to pick animals that suited the property,” says Suzanne.
Like most in Southland, they winter cows on crop and this year will have some cows on fodder beet and others on swedes, as well as supplementing with hay, straw and baleage.
Suzanne says while there’s “always more than one way to skin a cat”, they focus on doing the “basics” well to prevent mud.
Simple things they do to mitigate mud include back fencing, using portable troughs, regularly moving the break fence and providing lots of supplement to ensure cows always have access to feed.
“We usually shift the cows twice a day and use a narrow feed face. If the weather is ratty and horrible, we’ll shift more frequently and top up with extra roughage if needed. We find when they’re well fed, they’re less likely to move up and down the break making more mud and wasting their energy looking for food and more inclined to lay down content and chew their cud.”
The couple also keep mobs small to around 120 to 150 cows. They spilt their mobs based on calving date, rather than body condition score, to make it easier for them to determine when they need to go back onto pasture to avoid cows calving on crop.
“We’re not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, we simply focus on good management practice,” says Suzanne.
She says mitigating mud is a win-win for everyone, the cows, the environment, staff and business.
“It’s easier for staff moving the break fence, you minimise feed waste and by limiting damage to your paddocks you’re able to cultivate them and get them back into grass quicker in the spring.”
Suzanne says while they don’t have a lot of critical source areas (CSA) on farm to manage, they do have a “web” of tile drains which flow to a CSA. The couple have fenced off the area and let the grass grow “rank” to help prevent sediment and phosphorous loss.
Suzanne says they have a range of different soils on farm, “you name it we have it”.
They avoid grazing “sensitive soil” types during the winter and Suzanne says farmers should know their soil types to decide what crop and pasture to plant and when to graze or avoid grazing certain paddocks at various times of the year.
“Our cows are the ones who pay our wages. We put them here, it’s our responsibility to look after them.”