Pro­tect­ing pas­ture in win­ter

Matamata Chronicle - - Rural Delivery - By BALA TIKKISETTY

Win­ter is the most vul­ner­a­ble time for the health of farm soils and stock, and the im­pact of farm­ing on water qual­ity.

For ex­am­ple, there’s a greater risk of pas­tures be­com­ing pugged from graz­ing and an­i­mal con­di­tion can drop due to the ef­fects of wind, cold and wet con­di­tions.

These sorts of prob­lems can ob­vi­ously hurt pas­ture growth and pro­duc­tiv­ity.

Also, any graz­ing prac­tices which lead to higher live­stock den­si­ties dur­ing win­ter can cause a lo­calised ac­cu­mu­la­tion of waste more eas­ily moved to sur­face water.

Such run-off, con­tain­ing bac­te­ria, nu­tri­ents and sed­i­ment, is ex­ac­er­bated by cat­tle com­pact­ing wet soils.

So now’s a good time to re­flect on how good stock win­ter­ing prac­tices can help pre­vent prob­lems or at least min­imise them.

As a gen­eral rule, avoid feed­ing out sup­ple­men­tary feeds in ar­eas where ef­flu­ent run-off may reach any water body.

Feed pads and stand-off pads are op­tions for pro­tect­ing soil phys­i­cal struc­ture and an­i­mal con­di­tion over win­ter pe­ri­ods.

A feed pad is a ded­i­cated con­crete plat­form where sup­ple­men­tary feeds are brought to the stock.

It usu­ally in­cor­po­rates as­so­ci­ated water troughs and must in­clude ef­flu­ent col­lec­tion.

In this win­ter­ing op­tion, higher feed ef­fi­ciency is achieved as the waste is re­duced to about 5 per cent com­pared to about 20 per cent or more when silage is fed in pad­docks.

A stand-off pad is a ded­i­cated, sealed loaf­ing area for stock.

These pads are con­structed us­ing a softer, free-drain­ing sur­face and use ma­te­ri­als like wood chips over a sealed base.

As stock can be with­held from pas­ture for longer pe­ri­ods of time, the area re­quired for each cow has to be big­ger, say about eight square me­tres.

Ef­flu­ent cap­ture is an im­por­tant as­pect of stand-off pads.

They should in­cor­po­rate a prop­erly sealed base area where ef­flu­ent can be col­lected for later use as free fer­tiliser.

Pads should al­ways be away from wa­ter­ways.

Also, when look­ing to build feed and stand-off pads, get good in­for­ma­tion about the char­ac­ter­is­tics of the farm’s soils, as this helps iden­tify the spe­cific risks as­so­ci­ated with them (and whether a pad is in fact nec­es­sary).

Aside from pads, an­other sys­tem gain­ing pop­u­lar­ity is the herd home.

These are a com­bi­na­tion of a feed­ing plat­form, a stand-off fa­cil­ity and an an­i­mal shel­ter.

Shel­tered feed­ing takes place over slat­ted con­crete floors.

As the cows stand on the re-en­forced slat­ted floors, their ef­flu­ent drops through the slats and into a con­crete lined bunker be­low.

Some farm­ers use sac­ri­fice pad­docks, when the op­tions listed above aren’t avail­able.

These are pad­docks on which fu­ture pro­duc­tion is sac­ri­ficed to pro­tect other ar­eas of the farm from stock dam­age when it is very wet.

Lost pro­duc­tion on sac­ri­fice pad­docks can be ex­pected for sev­eral years, de­pend­ing on how in­ten­sively they have been used and how much dam­age is caused to the soil.

Waikato Re­gional Coun­cil does not rec­om­mend us­ing sac­ri­fice pad­docks be­cause of the height­ened risks in­volved, such as any dis­charge of ef­flu­ent or sed­i­ment from them into wa­ter­ways.

While sac­ri­fice pad­docks them­selves aren’t il­le­gal, any unau­tho­rised dis­charge from them to water is.

The other dis­ad­van­tages of sac­ri­fice pad­docks also in­clude the risk of soil struc­ture dam­age and pos­si­ble an­i­mal health prob­lems such as lame­ness and mas­ti­tis.

If soil po­tas­sium lev­els be­come too great (po­tas­sium is ex­creted in urine) it can pre­dis­pose the calv­ing cow to meta­bolic prob­lems.

The specifics of sac­ri­fice pad­docks aside, it is gen­er­ally a good man­age­ment prac­tice un­der wet pas­ture con­di­tions to keep cows on green feed for four to six hours and stand them off for 18 to 20 hours to avoid ac­cu­mu­la­tion of ef­flu­ent on wet soils.

Shel­ter is help­ful in stand-off ar­eas for re­duc­ing an­i­mal main­te­nance re­quire­ments, sav­ing feed and re­duc­ing soil or pad­dock dam­age by cut­ting graz­ing time.

When it comes to stock health, hav­ing shel­ter in stand-off ar­eas helps pro­tect an­i­mals and re­duces their main­te­nance re­quire­ments.

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