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.
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.
REASON 1: YOU’RE OVERSTOCKED
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.
REASON 2: LOW SOIL FERTILITY
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.
REASON 3: THE WEATHER
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.