Sustainable practice for winter stock
It is wise to keep an eye on stock wintering practices to be used in the wet winter months ahead.
In recent years, land use change, including intensification, has seen changes in the type of stock, dry matter production, stocking rates and nutrient input.
All these can have an impact on the environment.
For example, a common practice during winter is to graze cattle intensively on large quantities of forage crops in relatively small area which, if not managed well, can result in soil damage and other potential environmental impacts such as polluting surface and ground water.
Livestock density is not the only factor affecting water quality as selection of feeding sites and management of wintering systems are also important considerations.
Also, wet pasture, heavy grazing and the resulting compaction can reduce pasture growth and impact negatively on farm productivity.
Feed pads and stand-off pads are options for protecting soil physical structure over wet periods.
The feed pad is a dedicated concrete platform where supplementary feeds are brought to the stock.
Higher feed efficiency is achieved as the wastage is reduced to about five per cent as against about 20 per cent or more when silage is fed in paddocks.
A stand-off pad is a dedicated loafing area for stock.
These pads are constructed using a softer free-draining surface and utilise materials like wood chips.
As stock can be withheld from pasture for longer periods of time, the area required per cow has to be bigger, say about eight square metres.
Capture of effluent is an important aspect of standoff pads.
The law requires that the base of any feedpad or standoff pad is properly sealed underneath, such as with compacted clay, a synthetic liner or concrete.
Herd home technology has also recently gained in popularity.
It is a combination of a feeding platform, stand-off facility and animal shelter.
Sheltered feeding for stock takes place over slatted concrete floors. As the cows stand on the reenforced slatted floors, their effluent drops through the slats and into a concrete lined bunker below.
While common in years gone by, sacrifice paddocks are now generally discouraged because of their disadvantages.
These 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 may predispose the calving cow to metabolic problems.
When building any wintering pad allow for solid and liquid waste disposal. Design the pad in such a way that the contaminants run into the farm’s effluent disposal system for the dairy shed. Locate the feed pad or stand-off pad well away from any waterway. It is unlawful to allow effluent runoff to enter streams or seep into groundwater.
Do not feed out supplementary feeds in areas where run-off water may reach any water body. If possible avoid feeding out in these paddocks altogether.
– Bala Tikkisetty is a sustainable agriculture coordinator at Waikato Regional Council. Contact him on 0800 800 401 or bala. tikkisetty@ wai katoregion.govt.nz
Helpful advice: Bala Tikkisetty is a sustainable agriculture co-ordinator at Waikato Regional Council.