By Justin Kitto for DairyNZ
Reflecting on the past five years, farmers should be proud of the work they have done to improve wintering practices.
We have come a long way and are getting recognition from councils and the government about positive changes that support the welfare of animals and the environment.
Talking to farmers across New Zealand for DairyNZ’s Winter Grazing Survey confirmed there is steady progress in wintering practices. Some big wins include:
• 95% of respondents with water in or beside their crop paddocks had a riparian buffer with an average width of 9m.
• 84% of respondents had a written wintering plan.
• 70% of respondents change grazing direction, often to avoid high-risk situations.
Having such high proportions of respondents carrying out these actions shows many farmers are focused on doing the best over winter.
To keep up this momentum, now is a good time to be considering your set-up for next winter.
Choosing suitable paddocks
Successful wintering starts with choosing suitable paddocks in spring, well ahead of winter. Many farmers avoid paddocks with waterways in or adjacent to crop, with almost all farmers having stock excluded and buffers wider than the minimum standard.
Considering the whole picture when choosing paddocks is also important. Our results showed 65% of paddocks were selected based on pasture renewal, while only 20% were based on risk criteria.
Having a broader picture is more important than being focused on pasture renewal alone as it is more likely low-risk areas will be selected. Factors to consider include paddock slope, critical source areas, and waterways and flood risk.
A great place to start when selecting paddocks is reflecting on this past season and, looking at paddock history, consider:
• Did your chosen paddocks hold up well?
• Would you choose the same paddocks again?
• Would you do something different based on what you have seen?
These questions can help shape your paddock selection and winter planning, and help to identify low-risk paddocks.
In cold, wet and windy conditions, cows can experience discomfort. Where possible, plant crop in paddocks with good shelter.
Alternatively, allow a feed buffer in your budget to account for feeding extra on cold, wet or windy days, and note this in your wintering plan.
Communicating with contractors
Contractors are an essential part of a successful wintering set-up, and working with them and effectively communicating helps avoid issues arising. If you use a contractor for spraying and establishing crop, contractors find it helpful to be told which parts of paddocks to avoid.
Programmes like TracMap can be used to identify exclusion zones, or put up temporary fencing around areas where crop should not be established. Another alternative is to provide a hand-drawn map.
Getting everyone on the same page, along with making a few key decisions around paddock selection, will help set you up to winter well in 2024.
This article first appeared in the September edition of our sister publication, Dairy Farmer.