How to prepare for a ‘wintering on’ situation

With a drier year, winter crops have been yielding lower than budgeted, resulting in a potential increase in wintering off costs. Here are some suggested tactics to manage the possibility of wintering some cows on farm.

Key messages

  • Wintering on can be more profitable than wintering off should the cost of that grazing increase (a total cost of $29.50/head/week including opportunity cost “on” vs >$30 /head/week wintering off).
  • Average Pasture Cover (APC) must be built up through autumn to at least 2,100 kgDM/ha at drying off (as a minimum). A targeted proportion of the farm shut up for wintering in late-March or early April is also ideal.
  • Target cow Condition Score (CS) needs to be a minimum of 4.5 at drying off.  Keep early calvers, light CS cows, and very high CS cows on farm to manage CS change better.
  • Changing to a flexible milking frequency or OAD milking is advised from March onwards to reach cow CS targets.

With a drier year, winter crops have been yielding lower than budgeted, resulting in a potential increase in wintering off costs. Below are some suggested tactics to manage the possibility of wintering some cows on farm.

Tactics

  • Farm system: Table 1 below shows an example of wintering on 1 cow/ha or a 200 cow mob of early calvers.  This is using a 750 cow (200ha) irrigated farm in South Canterbury/North Otago as an example. In order to protect soil, pasture and profitability next year, not more than a cow per hectare is suggested. All costs included opportunity cost has been accounted for.  
  • Environment: Ensure the wintering system meets the environmental compliance requirements for the farm. Does it work within your Farm Environment Plan and nutrient management?  
  • Average Pasture Cover (APC): Have 100-200 kgDM/ha extra of APC at drying off to support the wintering on (i.e. a minimum of 2100 kgDM/ha, pre and post-grazing respectively as 2700 kgDM/ha and 1500kgDM/ha).  This is a 200 day round, and gives 1,200 available/ha and importantly a 1,500 post-graze residual for spring (50m2/cow).
  • Feeding out. Have a solid standoff area or sacrifice paddock to reduce wastage and protect pasture. Graze pastures on/off. Cows can consume feed at a rate of around 2kgDM/cow/hour. Therefore, 6 kgDM/cow of pasture will take 3 hours to consume. Then remove the mob and stand it off in a ‘standoff area’ with PKE and straw. Alternatively have a solid area to place PKE trailers and feed out straw to reduce wastage and potential pasture damage.
  • Supplements. PKE and straw feeds were chosen as best and most profitable supplements to maintain or lift cow condition. Silage on hand was assumed to be saved to feed out in early lactation.  

Table 1: Example of cost, feed type and quantity of potential supplements (500 kglwt cow)

Farmwise table

*Total cost is before labour and feeding out.
** Offered 14kgDM/cow/d, consumed 12kgDM/cow/d or 120 MJME (14% wastage).  This will allow weight gain of 300-400 gms/day LWT.
***Opportunity cost was calculated as an extra 100kgDM/ha to lift the APC x 200 ha = 20tDM at $280/tDM as grazing cost = $5600 / 200 cows / 8 weeks = $3.50/cow/week. This also include the opportunity cost from ‘sacrificed paddock’

If your pasture cover and cow condition are set up in the autumn to the optimum outlined above and soil types are favourable then your farm is suitable for wintering on. When reviewing the plan make sure it follows good management practice and environmental requirements and nutrient budget targets are met. Wintering on may be an option if the usual local wintering options are limited and/or proving expensive for your budget. A cow per hectare on farm over winter is old school – but old school still works if you plan early! 

It can be an alternative and profitable way to manage the highly demanding grazing situation that is unfolding in our district.  Start the planning process now – and if you need an experienced eye to have a look at your options – just let me know.

FarmWise Consultant, Alexis Perez

Alexis Perez, South Canterbury/North Otago    

Mob 027 281 7070   E  alexis.perez@lic.co.nz)