NZ Lifestyle Block - - FEATURE -

IT’S RAIN­ING AGAIN, and you can feel the re­lief as dry, dusty pad­docks be­gin to take on a green hue of fresh grass.

But that pas­ture may be hid­ing a deadly se­cret that can kill your live­stock, es­pe­cially cat­tle, within a cou­ple of hours, which is why it’s im­por­tant to not let hun­gry live­stock loose on fresh, lush au­tumn feed.

Dur­ing a drought, ni­tro­gen lev­els nat­u­rally rise in the soil. Once it be­gins rain­ing more of­ten in au­tumn, the pas­ture comes away, en­joy­ing the mois­ture, the cooler, cloudy weather, the ex­tra ni­tro­gen in the soil, and pos­si­bly the ni­tro­gen fer­tiliser you may choose to ap­ply to give it a boost.

But any or all of these fac­tors can cause the plant to hold ex­cess ni­tro­gen in its leaves at a level toxic to live­stock, caus­ing ni­trate/ni­trite poi­son­ing. Cat­tle are the most sus­cep­ti­ble, but deer, goats and sheep are also at risk. The ni­trates are ab­sorbed very quickly, di­rectly into the blood­stream, af­fect­ing the blood’s abil­ity to carry oxy­gen. An­i­mals be­gin breath­ing quickly, try­ing to ab­sorb more oxy­gen, caus­ing them to be­come un­steady on their feet, stag­ger, then fall down. They may froth at the mouth or pro­duce ex­cess saliva, and gasp for air, be­fore dy­ing quickly.

Dif­fer­ent an­i­mals have dif­fer­ent needs, de­pend­ing on their phys­i­ol­ogy and habits.

For ex­am­ple, goats have lit­tle sub­cu­ta­neous fat cover and al­ways re­quire shel­ter from rain and cold weather. Sheep, on the other hand, with a good coat of wool and dif­fer­ent fat dis­tri­bu­tion, can with­stand more cold, ex­cept when they're ba­bies; we all know from news re­ports (and un­for­tu­nate ex­pe­ri­ence), how quickly cold will kill new­born lambs. Shel­ter from rain, wind or snow is vi­tal if lamb­ing and storms co­in­cide.

Poul­try need places to hide from over­head preda­tors. Pigs re­quire hous­ing, for shade and pro­tec­tion from wind and rain.

Cat­tle are the most self-suf­fi­cient, with less need for shel­ter, but one thing all an­i­mals re­quire is shade in the heat of sum­mer.

Heat and cold both cause stress in an­i­mals. Those farm­ers who think they will cut down all the trees on their farms so they can grow a lit­tle more grass will need ev­ery blade of it for their an­i­mals to eat to en­able them to keep as warm as they would have been un­der the trees' shel­ter in win­ter. In the sum­mer their an­i­mals will be­come too hot and won't eat any­way.

Heat stress is a se­ri­ous prob­lem for many an­i­mals. If you've ever suf­fered heat ex­haus­tion or heat­stroke your­self, you'll know how ut­terly aw­ful it makes you feel. An­i­mals jave larger bod­ies than ours and with­out the free­dom to get out of the heat, can be­come life-threat­en­ingly ill.

The up­per North Is­land in par­tic­u­lar is a risky area in sum­mer when the hu­mid­ity is high. Ru­mi­nants lose heat pri­mar­ily by breath­ing, but if the out­side air tem­per­a­ture and hu­mid­ity is high, they can't cool down.

If you're lucky there will be ma­ture trees present on your land, but if you've ended up on a sub­di­vided bare block, you may have to start from scratch. There are dif­fer­ent qual­i­ties of shade, from the pro­tec­tion from di­rect sun­light af­forded by a sin­gle layer of cloth or roof­ing to the deep cool­ness be­neath a stand of large, thickly-leafed trees.

Good tree shel­ter is not usu­ally some­thing one can cre­ate quickly. Most of the fast-grow­ing leafy trees tend to be un­wanted weed species, but there are many na­tives and many 'safe' ex­otics which will serve the pur­pose. Seek lo­cal ad­vice on species which will do well in the ar­eas in which you wish to plant them, pro­vide the sort of shel­ter you re­quire and are non-toxic to your an­i­mals.

A cab­bage tree I planted a few years ago first pro­vided enough shade for an el­derly bull to keep his head and neck cool, then grad­u­ally more of his body and now that patch of shade can be shared by two an­i­mals. In another pad­dock, trees which had in­con­ve­niently come up along fence lines and been left for too long, are now pruned so they don't grow through the wires. They are be­com­ing big enough to pro­vide some shade for sin­gle an­i­mals, but be­fore long we'll have a north-side shade belt

Au­tumn is just the best time of year. The weather is still warm but the sting has gone out of the sun. The pad­docks are dry. Stock don’t seem to need to eat much to hold con­di­tion when they aren’t fight­ing storms and cold weather. The po­plar leaves are go­ing a bright duck­ling yel­low and farm work has dwin­dled to a list of things to do when I feel like it, like a new fence to put in on a hill pad­dock or sedge to grub over the back, fire­wood to col­lect for win­ter, and clear­ing elec­tric fences.

But mostly it is a time of warmth and no pres­sure, and on the vet­eri­nary side of our life, calls dwin­dle to the rou­tine rather than the dra­matic.

But the farm­ers still have to keep stock mov­ing around. Reg­u­lar stock shifts stop any one area get­ting grazed too hard, and even if the grass isn’t grow­ing much in the dry, the cat­tle still like a change of scenery ev­ery few days.

But if there is one thing about au­tumn I don’t like, it’s wasps. Pa­per wasps nest up un­der the eaves of the house, un­der the deck and through­out the gar­den, and hide in the black­berry patches along the back roads. It makes gar­den­ing and black­ber­ry­ing a bit haz­ardous when one might sud­denly be dive bombed by a mil­lion an­gry lit­tle hor­nets with needle­like stingers, jab­bing one into a hasty re­treat.

Most coun­try folk are used to them and keep a good look­out for their mush­roomshaped houses of chewed wood fi­bre. But clients Phil and Mau­reen hadn’t al­lowed for Ger­man wasps. These yel­low and black-striped bug­gers like to find a hole in the ground and eat away at it un­til it is a whole lot big­ger, a city.

Phil and Mau­reen were shift­ing a mob of heifers, Phil call­ing the girls to fol­low to the next gate, Mau­reen and Mitzi the dog, a big chested, woolly-coated beardie, bring­ing them up be­hind.

Heifers be­have like silly teenagers at the best of times, but Phil said they had the mob mov­ing along nicely, about 50 head in the mid-af­ter­noon. The heat had gone out of the sun but it was still quite warm as they waited for the cool of the evening ahead. The cat­tle had to cross a drain to get to the end of the pad­dock and the gate­way lead­ing to fresh graz­ing, but that was no big deal as the drain was dry at this end of a long sum­mer. It was a wide open drain they could eas­ily walk down into and up the other side. No prob­lem. That was un­til half the mob was across the other side. That was when the wasps woke up, a great black an­gry swarm that came buzzing out of the ground. “Well, then we had heifers go­ing in all di­rec­tions,” said Phil. “It was a stam­pede in 360 de­grees. I still hadn’t twigged as to what caused it and just thought they were be­ing stupid.

“Mum and the dog were try­ing to con­trol the sit­u­a­tion.”

“The dog raced off down one side in a valiant at­tempt to pull the cat­tle back into a group and mum runs off down the

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