Time to take stock of season so far
It’s the start of a new year but only half-way through the production season. It’s a good time to work out how things have gone, now that the reproduction part of the season is over and it should be time to get some cash back on lambs and weaner calves sold.
It’s very important to work out where money went and why nothing came back.
You can use the ‘‘hobby’’ excuse for so long but then you need to get the axe out and face reality.
The main thing is not to repeat mistakes made in 2011 by blaming the weather or umpteen other things. You can afford to make a mistake only once.
Have plans ready before an event and not for after. Start networking among neighbours and on lifestyleblock.co.nz when planning to change things.
Pasture growth depends on rain, so have plans ready in case things get dry from now on, to ensure you will have feed well into February.
Don’t rely on official long-term weather predictions – have plans to cover all possibilities.
There’s a lot of supplement around this summer, so if you need some buy it now when prices are sensible. Things can change very quickly. Everything is racing to seed and it’s too late to make high-quality silage from mature overgrown pasture that’s as high as the fences.
But this will make hay and/or baleage, which you can always sell later or it will keep.
If pastures get totally out of control and you don’t want to turn this growth into supplements, just speed up the grazing rotation and let the stock eat the tops off.
This is called ‘standing hay’, or ‘ deferred grazing’, which sounds better.
It’s really bad grazing management from the viewpoint of grass use and clover recovery.
Only big hungry mature cattle can chew off this mass of feed and even they will waste most of it.
The resulting flattened pasture ‘‘thatch’’ will delay the growth of fresh green quality feed, both for the rest of the summer and autumn, and it is ideal for facial eczema spores to grow in.
Deferred grazing is said to provide a supply of free seed into the pasture but that’s not a feature worth much.
There are years of ungerminated seed in the ground already. It’s more important to get rid of the flowering heads and dead mat to allow new growth and let the light into the bottom so the clover will survive.
Clover won’t grow in the dark. Buying extra stock to graze surplus feed can be tricky – if you have too much feed because of the good season, so will everybody else and stock prices will be high.
But if you have fat stock to sell, this will help, assuming there is a profit in an exchange deal.
Don’t expect weaner calves to eat mature hay paddocks – they need good green feed to keep growing.
Do a budget to see if it’s worthwhile to cash some stock now and make silage or hay of any surplus feed to sell now or later.
If pastures dry up quickly, then you may have to get rid of stock before winter when prices may not be as good. On the other hand, don’t graze (or mow) paddocks too bare because this lets the sun and wind dry it even more.
Sheep don’t like hot weather so make sure all have been shorn. Wool prices have been good but what you get from the wool merchant depends on the New Zealand dollar fluctuation that week – and the way you have prepared the clip.
If you still have wool to come off, get the shearer’s advice on how to prepare the wool.
If you still have the wool on the farm and you didn’t sort it, then this is what you should do.
Throw each fleece on to a clean floor. Collect up all the bits that fall off, like the wool from the legs (called fribs) and around the crutch.
If they have not fallen off remove them. Put them in a separate bag and have the bellies in a separate bag. From the main fleece, remove any short and stained bits around the edges to bag with the pieces.
Remove all wool with vegetable contamination and any stained with raddle.
Put the dags around the fruit trees for mulch. You may think that you’ve thrown half the fleece away after this exercise but if you throw everything in, then you’ll get the lowest price for the lot.
There’s not an army of people in wool stores any more re-sorting wool like there used to be so clip preparation on the farm is the best option, whether prices are high or low.
Watch for flystrike on shorn sheep if any get dirty. It doesn’t need much to attract the Australian green blowfly, which operates for the whole of the summer.
Shearing lambs is never very profitable but left in the wool they are prone to flystrike even when clean. Giving them an insecticide spray around the britch and along the back is very effective. Get as many lambs as possible away fat off their mothers and work out if it’s best to get rid of the remaining lambs as stores, especially if you will be short of feed.
Keeping lambs on the farm into the new year starts to cost money in drench, fly treatment and time, and if they are going backwards in condition because the feed dries up they become a financial liability.
They are better sold as stores. But if, on the other hand, there’s plenty of good feed around, lambs kept to higher weights will earn you more.
Quit any ewes that haven’t earned their keep or have any physical or health problems – for example with teeth and udders.
Don’t drench any lambs until you have talked to your vet, so your actions are based on faecal egg counts and not drench promotional gimmicks.
Ewes in good body condition should not need drenching because their natural immunity protects them from worms.
The main objective is to get some weight back on all flock ewes for next season.
Although most rams don’t go out till March in the North Island, you should have your rams sorted by now.
Newly purchased rams need shearing and any that have been kept from last year need vet checking.
Fit healthy rams in January will start to ‘‘pink up’’, will smell strongly and be keen to get to ewes.
This smell (the male pheromone in the wool grease) can bring ewes into season so keep rams away from the ewes if you don’t want early lambs.
It could be worth joining them with ewes in good body condition to get some early lambs for the early premium market.
Start facial eczema precautions. The only practical way to treat sheep with zinc is with a bolus, which lasts about a month.
Don’t give them more than three a season because it costs money and they can risk zinc toxicity. So deciding when to start precautions is a concern, knowing that facial eczema can be dangerous right up to May.
Talk to your vet about doing spore counting from pasture samples or faecal samples to see when pastures are ‘‘hot’’ and hence dangerous. Faecal sampling for spores is becoming more popular because at least you know that the sheep has eaten them.
If you are serious about your sheep enterprise, buy facial eczema-tolerant rams to breed resistance into your sheep.
Young growing stock, especially dairy weaners, are the main concern, especially when it gets hot and pastures start to dry.
Keep offering them the best pasture, to hopefully keep growing at least about 0.6kg per day. If feed quality drops then 0.4kg per day is more realistic.
In drought conditions they will lose weight and stunting the growth of young stock has serious long-term effects.
They never catch up fully later in life. Beef cows in good condition sucking calves take little hurt when it starts to get dry. If it persists then it’s better to wean their calves and give the calves the best feed going.
Use the cows to clean up any rough feed around the farm. If you put stock out on the road verge to clean up feed, check our website for advice on safety and your legal responsibilities if they cause accidents. Older store cattle in good condition can handle dry spells, and if feed gets short, their main priority is good water.
Watch for biting flies and get vet advice for a treatment if they become a serious nuisance. Bulls should be out from the cows in the North Island to avoid late calving.
If you are keeping any bulls over for next season, keep an eye on their health through the warm summer weather.
Send any not needed to the works. Facial eczema protection should be well under way. If you wait until spore counts rise, the danger is that your farm (and paddocks within the farm) will all vary.
Don’t rely on general spore counts published in the local paper, at your vet clinic and on websites, because they may not apply on your farm. Talk to your vet about what to do. If you want to use zinc boluses, the points made above for sheep apply to cattle.
Zinc sulphate in the water trough is not palatable so how much each animal gets can be very variable and hence not effective.
Note: For oral drenching you use zinc oxide, never zinc sulphate.
If you are making plans for a later break before school starts, double-check security plans. Burglars are back on the beat after their holiday break and are waiting for you to leave easy access to your property with all your new gear to pick up.
Keep checking the water supply. You cannot afford to waste any. Keep checking the power fences and the earth pegs which will dry out. If hay has to be cut keep in regular touch with the contractor. Make access easy for them and remove all hazards or mark them. You don’t want to be the cause of a mechanical disaster, or you may be looking for a new contractor next season.
Get farm records up to date and pay all accounts on time. No doubt you’ll still have visitors and children around the farm this month.
Be brutal – keep them off the motorbikes and ATVS. There’s somebody injured on farms every day and a death once a month. Don’t add to the statistics.