How much will this sum­mer cost you?

The se­crets to sur­viv­ing the big dry

NZ Lifestyle Block - - Front Page - WORDS DR CLIVE DAL­TON

Af­ter what seemed to be a long win­ter and slow spring, sum­mer can’t come soon enough. But on life­style blocks, where most folk have a full-time job off the farm, there’s a lot of plan­ning to do dur­ing sum­mer for school hol­i­days, plus silage and hay making, wean­ing, sort­ing of live­stock and much more.

Adding to the stress are nerves about what can hap­pen if it doesn’t rain for a few weeks and all the green feed dis­ap­pears in an­other drought, which ac­cord­ing to NIWA is highly likely in many ar­eas (see page 24 for spe­cific tips on how to sur­vive a drought).

We need rain in Novem­ber to set the farm up for Jan­uary and Fe­bru­ary, when it’s nor­mal for things to dry off. Re­cent droughts should be a warn­ing to make as much early silage as pos­si­ble and then hay later, as you will need it for both a sum­mer drought and a lack of feed through au­tumn and win­ter as pas­tures re­cover.

short term gain only as the es­sen­tial soil fer­til­ity com­po­nents of phos­phate, potash and sul­phur will not be high enough. A soil test is needed first to check soil acid­ity (ph) and then P, K and S lev­els to see what fer­tiliser is needed to get them into the ideal range. There may also be se­ri­ous trace el­e­ment prob­lems too.

Pas­ture does not grow for free so any sur­plus should be saved as silage for the first op­tion, be­cause it pre­serves about 80-90% of the nu­tri­ents that were in the orig­i­nal pas­ture. Hay con­tains around 15-20%.

Silage is really pick­led pas­ture, us­ing lac­tic and acetic acid as the nat­u­ral preser­va­tives, and it’s the best op­tion for the first sur­plus pas­ture. The best time to cut silage is when about 10-15% seed heads are show­ing. This can hap­pen quickly af­ter only a few warm days, so have your con­trac­tor or­gan­ised months be­fore­hand, and get reg­u­lar up­dates on how things are go­ing for them. Novem­ber is too early to think about making hay, as pas­tures need to be more ma­ture so that’s an af­ter-christ­mas op­tion in most ar­eas.

But silage is a prob­lem for block own­ers be­cause most of to­day’s con­trac­tors can only of­fer large wrapped bales which are dif­fi­cult to move and feed out. If bales are left in a pad­dock for stock to feed from ad lib, the re­sult is a burned and pugged area of grass, which is slow to re­cover, and of­ten a lot of wasted silage too.

A few con­trac­tors will wrap small bales, which in­evitably are more ex­pen­sive and still a two-per­son lift. Ma­chines that make small bales are get­ting old and are kept go­ing by parts from other old balers so even­tu­ally this won’t be an op­tion any­way.

But what­ever size bales are made, they need to be well wrapped to keep out air, pro­tected from dam­age by birds and rats, and well fenced from stock. Even the small­est punc­ture will let in enough air to cause mould, and mouldy silage (or hay) should never be fed to live­stock. Mould is also a hu­man health haz­ard so be care­ful not to breathe it in.

Be wary about ‘bal­age’ as it can ei­ther be silage made from pas­ture gone to seed, and there­fore lack­ing in nu­tri­tion, or wrapped hay that got wet (again lack­ing in nu­tri­tion), it’s hard to com­press, and it could be full of weeds and mould.

In the­ory, bal­age is about 40% Dry Mat­ter (DM), whereas good silage is around 20% and hay is 80%. Re­mem­ber that it’s not the DM, which is a mea­sure of feed qual­ity, but the nu­tri­ents (pro­tein and en­ergy) in the DM which is im­por­tant. You will see this ex­pressed as ‘Metabolis­able En­ergy’ or ME and in good qual­ity feeds it’s around 11-12.

Good hay should be green and leafy, smell sweet, and not have been rained on. Hay made from pas­ture that has ‘died on its feet’ be­fore cut­ting is of lit­tle nu­tri­tional value. The chances are that it’s mainly York­shire fog or brown­top which are low qual­ity grasses.

If grass has really got out of con­trol and gone to seed, and making sup­ple­ments is too dif­fi­cult or ex­pen­sive, a sim­ple op­tion is to buy or bor­row some big ma­ture cat­tle and keep them mov­ing around the farm to eat off the tops as fast as pos­si­ble which should stim­u­late some new green re-growth. They’ll tend to be qui­eter and more re­spect­ful of fences. Sell them again as soon as they have done their job.

YOUNG STOCK are not suit­able to chew off rank pas­ture, as it’s im­por­tant not to leave clumps which will keep on grow­ing into big­ger clumps. A big prob­lem can be cocks­foot in pas­ture which be­comes more un­palat­able as it ages. There will al­ways be long grass around dung patches, but th­ese should be grazed next time around which big cat­tle will do.

You have to be tough when us­ing cat­tle as graz­ing ma­chines to clean up rank feed, as they’ll ex­pect a fence shift ev­ery time they see you. Keep out of sight so you don’t set them off moo­ing, and move them tomorrow.

When pas­ture gets really long and falls over, cat­tle will tram­ple a lot of it into the ground. This is an aw­ful waste but you’ll have to ac­cept this and wait un­til it rots and the new grass grows up through it. At least this re­tains soil mois­ture, al­though it looks aw­ful. How­ever, it’s a bad sit­u­a­tion for clover plants which need space and light to grow, so it’s best to avoid this sit­u­a­tion in fu­ture by tak­ing ac­tion ear­lier.

When things get really dry, don’t get on the trac­tor or ride-on mower to slash off any sur­plus dead pas­ture, just to have a ‘tidy up’. This will just ex­pose more soil area to the sun and it will dry out even quicker, plus you risk en­cour­ag­ing the growth of the spores that will cause fa­cial eczema (FE) from Jan­uary-may.

a big prob­lem is cocks­foot which be­comes un­palat­able as

it ages


IT’S TIME to start tidy­ing up the flock, and your main pri­or­ity is to wean lambs be­fore it gets dry as their moth­ers will have stopped milk­ing and lambs will now be com­pet­ing for the same feed.

Lambs need the best feed on the farm, but when it gets scarce it’s time to sell as many as pos­si­ble while prices for prime lambs are good be­fore Christ­mas. Also, if the prime trade is good, the chances are that the store trade will fol­low for a while be­fore buy­ing stops when ev­ery­one sees pas­tures dry­ing up. You can’t grow lambs on dead grass.

It might be tempt­ing to keep late-born small lambs (which in­evitably are twins or triplets) with the idea that they will grow and catch up over sum­mer. But re­search shows that gen­er­ally they won’t: they may be per­ma­nently stunted, you will need to spend more on drench and fly treat­ments, and they will need more of your pre­cious feed re­serves. It’s been proven to be eco­nom­i­cally bet­ter to sell them early and ac­cept the first loss be­fore putting more money into them.

Once the sur­plus lambs are off the place, and only the re­place­ment ewe lambs are left, it’s time to go through them to check teeth, ud­ders and body con­di­tion. If a ewe didn’t rear a lamb to wean­ing, they should be first off to the sa­le­yards.

Nor­mally ewes are ‘cast for age’ at the age of five, but if they pass in­spec­tion, then they will be good for an­other sea­son and should pro­duce twins at least.

An­other pri­or­ity is to get the wool off ewes (and lambs) for the sake of their wel­fare. Don’t ex­pect to make money off this wool. Wool prices have im­proved this sea­son so you may think it’s worth putting ef­fort into its prepa­ra­tion for sale if you want to sell it your­self, but for most peo­ple, it’s usu­ally less has­sle to let the shearer take the wool for noth­ing.

The Sheep Wel­fare Code says that sheep

sell early – you will only lose if you keep ex­tra


must be shorn once a year. Wool needs to be shorn when it’s no longer than 100mm, which means shear­ing twice a year for strong wool breeds like Rom­neys and Coop­worths.

Sheep in the North Is­land are now usu­ally shorn pre-mat­ing in au­tumn and then mid-late win­ter be­fore lamb­ing. No chem­i­cals should be ap­plied to sheep in the 50 days be­fore shear­ing.

All dirty sheep need to be dagged be­fore shear­ing, and you’ll have to come to some ar­range­ment with the shearer as their union rules con­sider dags a health haz­ard. Ask about dag­ging when you book the shearer as hard dags blunt combs and cut­ters, and is done with sep­a­rate gear.

If you’re sell­ing your wool, make sure it’s prop­erly sorted as the best price is for the main body wool. It needs to be free from short bits and dung-stains, and there should be no rad­dled wool or veg­etable rub­bish in it. A ma­jor prob­lem in re­cent sea­sons has been the in­crease in this­tle heads in wool, a ma­jor prob­lem when the wool is carded.

Lambs only pro­duce about 1kg of wool but this sea­son it has in­creased in price. But even if you’re not sell­ing it, it’s still worth get­ting their wool off as it helps pre­vent blowfly

at­tacks, es­pe­cially if you also ap­ply a pre­ven­ta­tive prod­uct around the crutch and along their back.

You need to be con­stantly on the look­out for dirty oily patches on the wool and lambs try­ing to nib­ble th­ese ar­eas to stop the itch of them be­ing eaten alive. The Aussie green blowfly is ac­tive very early in the sea­son, as soon as things warm up, and stays ac­tive late into au­tumn. Lambs can get dirty from rub­bing against their daggy moth­ers when they are yarded so be aware of that.

THE AD­VER­TIS­ING and pro­mo­tional pres­sure to drench ewes and lambs so you can claim ‘spe­cials’ like Christ­mas hams is re­lent­less. Al­ways talk to your vet about drench­ing and base any de­ci­sion on a Fae­cal Egg Count (FEC) so you know what the worm load is. There will be a wide range of eggs per gram of fae­ces (epg) in a mob, and vets take 500epg as a trig­ger to drench the mob. But un­less the whole mob is up in the thou­sands, and the sheep are not thriv­ing, don’t drench them. Ewes should not need drench­ing be­cause their nat­u­ral im­mu­nity pro­tects them.

Cur­rent best prac­tice is to de­lay drench re­sis­tance by al­ways leav­ing 20% of good lambs in a mob un­drenched so that they breed worms that are killed by drench. Th­ese worms are said to be ‘in refu­gia’ which al­lows non-re­sis­tant worms to mate with re­sis­tant ones, hope­fully slow­ing up the ad­vance to to­tal re­sis­tance when your farm can’t run sheep.

Rams may go out in au­tumn but now is the time to sort out what rams will be needed. Re­mem­ber, the ram is half the flock so money spent on good rams is an in­vest­ment. If you want to keep a ram for many sea­sons, make sure he does not mate any of his own daugh­ters, which means keep­ing them sep­a­rate af­ter they are 3-4 months in age; a well-grown hogget (around 45kg) will come on heat. Get rid of all lambs with tes­ti­cles be­fore Christ­mas as they will mate ewes too.

In the North Is­land, ewes will start cy­cling in De­cem­ber if they (and the rams) are in good body con­di­tion, so keep rams sep­a­rate if you don’t want win­ter lambs when feed is short. Rams in Jan­uary (es­pe­cially Poll Dorset) will start to ‘pink up’ and smell strongly, which stim­u­lates oestrus in the ewes through their pheromones in the wool grease.

Rams are best shorn well be­fore mat­ing, and any kept from last year will need a thor­ough ex­am­i­na­tion by a vet. They should have no ab­nor­mal­i­ties in their tes­ti­cles, pre­puce or pe­nis.

Don’t use chem­i­cals on ewes or rams for six weeks ei­ther side of join­ing with the ewes, as it could af­fect fer­til­ity.

When pas­tures dry off, it’s Fa­cial Eczema (FE) time again and the prob­lem is spread­ing to wider ar­eas. Preven­tion with zinc needs to start on Jan­uary 1 and con­tinue well into May. Check with your vet about the best method for your flock.

A zinc bo­lus (which lasts a month) is an easy way to treat sheep, but check spore counts from lo­cal vet clin­ics as ex­tra oral drench­ing may be needed. Don’t give sheep more than three bo­luses over a sea­son as this can risk zinc tox­i­c­ity.

If you are se­ri­ous about keep­ing sheep long term, find a breeder with Fe-tol­er­ant rams for sale. It’s an­other good in­vest­ment.


THE MAIN PRI­OR­ITY over sum­mer is for this sea­son’s calves and year­lings, as they need to keep grow­ing. Hand-raised wean­ers will be more at risk than calves that have been suck­ling off their mother for 3-4 months as th­ese an­i­mals will be much heav­ier and in bet­ter con­di­tion.

Years of re­search have shown that stunt­ing young stock has life­time ef­fects. Year­ling cat­tle should be well fed if they are to be mated, but bulls can also mate well-grown calves which can cy­cle. If young heifers do get preg­nant, they need to be aborted as early as pos­si­ble.

The ideal growth tar­get of 1kg/head/ day is only achiev­able on good qual­ity pas­ture, and won’t be pos­si­ble when it gets dry. Good qual­ity sup­ple­ments need to be kept for any drought pe­riod, and this means you need silage as hay has lit­tle feed­ing value. Con­cen­trates may be needed too, and th­ese are ex­pen­sive.

Sur­plus fruit and veg­eta­bles may be avail­able, and feed­ing tree prun­ings is a good op­tion too, but only af­ter check­ing which may be toxic. Yew, macro­carpa, rhodo­den­dron and ole­an­der are par­tic­u­larly dan­ger­ous.

Ma­ture beef cows do well on dry sum­mer pas­ture, as long as they have plenty of clean wa­ter and shade. How­ever, cows of dairy breed ori­gin that have suck­led more than one calf will be thin, and may need sup­ple­ments to pre­vent more loss of body con­di­tion. If drought con­di­tions pre­vail, get rid of any old cows.

Young stock may start scour­ing, even on dry pas­ture, but don’t as­sume it’s worms and au­to­mat­i­cally treat them with a pour-on or an oral drench. Al­ways check with your vet first, as there can be many causes. Our per­sis­tent use of easy-to-ap­ply pour-ons over the last 30 years means coope­ria worms are now highly re­sis­tant to an­thelmintics.

Bulls are a ma­jor haz­ard, es­pe­cially over

the ideal growth rate of 1kg a day is only achie­ve­able on good qual­ity


the hol­i­day pe­riod with strangers around. Get rid of any bulls you don’t need for next sea­son. Never trust a bull, es­pe­cially a friendly one, as the day he wants to play with you could be your last.

Wa­ter is a top pri­or­ity for all cat­tle in sum­mer, so keep troughs clean and make sure there are no leaks. A lac­tat­ing cow will drink 70 litres a day, or more if she can­not find shade. Shade is very im­por­tant.

FE is spread­ing to more ar­eas and is a real con­cern in young stock, so dis­cuss preven­tion with your vet and what prod­uct to use. Zinc bo­luses are avail­able for cat­tle, but they may need ex­tra zinc orally if spore num­bers spike.

Jan­uary 1 is the time to start as it takes around three weeks for zinc to build up in the liver for pro­tec­tion.

Ma­ture beef cat­tle

do well on dry sum­mer pas­ture, as long as they have plenty of clean wa­ter

and shade.

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