LIC | Reduce soil & pasture damage through winter

Reduce soil & pasture damage through winter

WinterDarren Sutton - FarmWise Consultant. Published in Waitomo News June 7th 2016

On many farms we have gone from being too dry to too wet within one month. As I write this we have had 10 days of continuous rain. This creates some real issues in protecting your valuable soils and pasture. If smart actions are not taken, short and long-term, soil and pasture damage can be done that will mean your pastures are not growing what they should through spring. This will undo any real attempts you have been planning on focussing on to maximise pasture grown and harvested this season – vital for increasing profitability on farm.

Key Points

The following is a series of key fundamental points of how to manage your farm and animals to reduce soil and pasture damage through winter.

Do a feed budget to plan out what supplements you can afford to use through winter and spring.

Ask yourself what supplements suit your farm in wet and drier weeks of winter?

Baleage and other long chop grass silage have a higher retention than maize silage fed in paddocks.

Are you happy to accept ‘crop circles’ from feeding PKE in trailers in paddocks? Or can you get the ‘light’ BCS (body condition score) mob off paddocks to feed this to?

Know what BCS your mobs are at. The feed budget can then predict if you will have your required APC (average pasture cover) at the PSC (planned start of calving).

Remember it is better to hit your target APC than hit the BCS target and be well below your target APC. An APC of 2200 at PSC and BCS at 4.75 is better than 2000 APC and all cows at 5.0 BCS.

Aim to be on an 80-100 day round to match leaf appearance rates. In wet weather this can be hard to hold to. So a balance has to be struck in wet weather by allowing some increases in area per day, as long as you can claw this back when the fine and frosty weather arrives.

In very wet weather feeding supplements can actually intensify pugging as you concentrate cows onto a smaller area. In very wet weather feeding supplements in the paddock is often best stopped and pasture area increased.

When the fine weather returns, increase supplements and really tighten up the areas.

Standing Off

Standing cows off on the cow shed yard or feed pad is a vital tool for protecting pasture and soils, especially on silt and clay soils.

If you cannot get all cows off, then focus on the ‘fat’ or ‘medium’ BCS mobs so that you can maximise the size of one mob you are comfortable with to stand off overnight. This leaves the smaller R2 and light BCS mob(s) that can be left on pasture overnight, but with perhaps a smaller extra break given in late afternoon to keep them still overnight.

Try to alternate the herds that have to stand on concrete overnight to reduce lameness and joint pain.

Always try to allow a minimum of three hours of grazing each day before standing off as this should provide enough maintenance feed, in most cases, for a cow at 5.0 BCS and a month from calving.

When feeding supplements, always try to do this in advance of moving cows. That way you can turn up at daybreak and move them onto their pasture and supplements. Then while they are content, feed out for the next day so they do not follow you up and down the fence line.

Always back-fence mobs – this speeds regrowth rates. Use portable troughs or allow water access till the afternoon, then close the fence on them to reduce tracking. And always make breaks as square as possible.

I hope these tips help you get into winter mode and think about how you can minimise your risk of pasture and soil pugging. Extra work now in the dry period will help set you up. 

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