Friday, July 1, 2022

Plan reduces drought stress

Yard-weaning this year’s calves is one of the drought strategies Don and Robyn Williamson have used to try to lessen the impact of the poor pasture available. The couple farm 265ha in the Owhiro Valley, close to the Kawhia Harbour on the west coast. After farming there through the drought in 2008 and the spring drought of 2010, they reduced their sheep numbers and refocused their farming strategy to try to be more proactive.

Don Williamson has tried to be proactive during the drought.

“We are hoping we won’t have to, but we’ve only got limited hay as a supplement going into winter.”

Don and Robyn have set themselves certain priorities to keep an eye on during a drought. First, they regularly monitor cash flow because that tightens up quickly in a drought when income received falls below budgeted figures.

Secondly, they look at what stock can be offloaded and then they prioritise the feed available for the remaining animals. They ensure the lambs get the best pasture, followed by the ewes, and the cows are used as a tool to clean up any rough pasture.

Don and Robyn regularly body condition score the ewes and this summer they put the light ewes into a separate mob. They then decided to put the rams out three weeks earlier while the ewes were still in good condition.

“The ewes are a little bit lighter than normal, but under the circumstances they’re not bad and the effects of the drought will show up in the scanning later this year,” Don says.

“Our focus will also be on our keeper lambs to grow them well and lamb them as a hogget.”

Don and Robyn offloaded all the rising – what would have been 15-month – cattle in January because of the drought conditions already hitting other regions. They usually just sell the best yearlings at the January sale and carry the rest forward.

“We were lucky we got well paid for them, too; it was quite a buoyant sale.”

After looking at cash flow, Don and Robyn then make a decision each year on how much supplementary fertiliser they can afford to apply.

Soil tests are done every three years and rather than blanket dressing, they prioritise the most productive areas of the farm.

They are using a product called exteNd – a nitrogenous fertiliser that is reputedly available for up to three months.

When phosphorous is needed they apply it in a semi-Dicalcic form which they feel is better for the environment and it means they don’t need to apply as much lime.

“Fertiliser is a big priority for us,” Robyn says, “but with the sheep and beef cheque being up and down you can only do what you can.

“We would love to put more fertiliser on, however we try to dress up to two-thirds of the farm each year.”

When faced with drought, planning has helped.

“What we found is that putting a plan down on paper and working through the steps has helped to reduce stress.

“It’s about forward thinking, rather than being reactive.

“In the past, and we’ve been guilty of this, you keep thinking it will rain soon, and you hope and you hope.

“Perhaps in order to cope with the cyclical seasons, farmers would be better off reducing stock numbers overall, which would give their farming systems more flexibility.” 

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