30+ tips for sur­viv­ing spring farm­ing chal­lenges

The sounds, smells and sights of spring make it the most ex­cit­ing time of year, but all those ba­bies and all that green grass bring their own is­sues.

NZ Lifestyle Block - - Contents - Words Dr Clive Dal­ton

How to get the best out of your pas­ture, grow fat calves and lambs, and why you need to think again when it comes to drench­ing.


IT’S AL­WAYS a re­lief to get through win­ter, and welcome that spe­cial date when pas­ture sup­ply ex­ceeds feed de­mand. This is when the long-awaited ‘spring flush’ should ar­rive, but some­times it doesn’t.

There are plenty of rea­sons why it may not or is de­layed, and you end up still look­ing for feed for stock which are right on lamb­ing, kid­ding and calv­ing. It can be very stress­ful. If there’s no good spring flush, you

| need to find out why.


The most com­mon rea­son is that the farm is over­stocked, and not enough sup­ple­ments were fed dur­ing win­ter, so a bank of feed could not be built up for lac­tat­ing stock.

Ad­mit­ting that you have too many stock is not pop­u­lar, but you have to be re­al­is­tic. Peo­ple can live with skinny stock for so long that they think it’s nor­mal, and neigh­bours can be too kind to tell them.


If fer­tiliser has not been ap­plied for many years, the soil is likely to be des­per­ately short of lime and other key nu­tri­ents like phos­phate and potash.


It’s easy to blame the weather and cold spring for slow growth, and it can have an ef­fect if the 10cm soil tem­per­a­ture is be­low 6 º C, which will de­lay rye­grass growth.

It’s im­por­tant to re­view the dates you have planned for the start of calv­ing, lamb­ing and kid­ding. The peak of lac­ta­tion in sheep and goats is about four weeks af­ter birth, and this is when you need full feed avail­able.

Be pre­pared for what’s called a ‘pinch pe­riod’ which can be caused by per­sis­tent cold spells and lack of sun. You can have spring feed over the top of your short gum­boots, but once that is eaten off, re­growth is pa­thet­i­cally slow

for the sec­ond graz­ing round.

The prob­lem is made worse by let­ting the saved pas­ture get too long, and then graz­ing it too low, not leav­ing enough ‘resid­ual’ leaf to gen­er­ate the re­growth. This resid­ual should be at least 1100kg Dm/ha or 50mm long for cat­tle, as they can­not graze lower than this.

The in­sur­ance for all these glitches in spring pas­ture growth is to have plenty of de­cent sup­ple­men­tary feed avail­able, and the stock used to clean­ing it up with­out waste or pug­ging the ground.

Peo­ple who take good care of their soil will find their pas­ture sud­denly goes crazy, and then starts to show seed heads within a few days when tem­per­a­tures rise. It’s far too early to make hay so one op­tion is to make early silage if you can han­dle wrapped bales.

But the eas­ier op­tion is to graze the top off the pas­ture and then move the stock on, leav­ing plenty of resid­ual for the next round.

Pad­docks taken out for silage will be ready for graz­ing af­ter about three weeks, if growth con­tin­ues.

If you can’t see feed build­ing up in pad­docks ear­marked for silage in early Novem­ber in the North Is­land, soil tests will tell you if a dress­ing of Ni­tro­gen (25kgn/ha) will boost growth. How­ever, wait un­til the soil tem­per­a­tures have risen well above 10 º C, oth­er­wise the re­sponse will be low and un­eco­nomic.

When things are right, Ni­tro­gen should give a 10:1 re­sponse, which means you get 10kg of pas­ture Dry Mat­ter for each 1kg of ni­tro­gen in the fer­tiliser ap­plied. How­ever, this may not work if the other ma­jor soil nu­tri­ents are not in bal­ance.

In to­day’s con­cern for the en­vi­ron­ment, re­mem­ber to use N fer­tilis­ers very care­fully to pre­vent runoff into drains and creeks, which should now all be fenced off from stock and planted out.

Weeds like this­tles, rag­wort, but­ter­cup and bar­ley grass will have been wait­ing to re­ally burst away in spring, feed­ing off their mas­sive root re­serves. Learn to recog­nise them in the early stages so you can start deal­ing to them in late win­ter.

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