YOUNG CATTLE such as calves and rising yearlings are the main concern over winter when pasture is short. If they are not kept growing to reach their target weights, they will be permanently stunted with lower lifetime production.
What they need is the best of supplementary feed with a growth target of at least 0.5kg/day. If they stop growing, they then need extra feed and extra time to catch up, which they may never do.
Mature beef cows are less of a worry as they generally maintain their body condition, but any cows that became skinny when suckling calves will need extra feed to build up body condition, and this means you will need good silage rather than hay.
It takes 180kg of Dry Matter to replace one condition score, on top of what the cow needs for maintenance each day. That is a lot of wet feed to get them into calving at a body condition score 5 (with rounded hips) and it will take quite a few weeks to achieve it. Skinny pregnant cows have poor calves, are slow to cycle to get pregnant again soon after calving, and will calve later each year.
The main concern with big cattle is to avoid pugging wet paddocks and it’s important to look at building a standoff pad to protect soils.
All cattle will have watery faeces on low Dry Matter pasture, and feeding hay will help mature cows to dry up – they don’t need worm drenching. Young stock will scour during winter for many reasons too, the main one being green lush pasture. But if their scouring leads to weight loss, they may have what’s called ‘autumn ill thrift’. This has many causes including mineral deficiencies, salmonella and yersiniosis, and not internal parasites. Veterinary help is essential to sort this out.
Drench-resistant worms are increasing in cattle as well as sheep and goats and actions need to be based on Faecal Egg Counts. Endectocides (for internal and external parasites) are easiest to apply as pour-ons if you don’t have good cattle handling facilities, and don’t want to risk getting injured, but they have been shown to be less effective at killing worms. They are also causing more drench resistance (especially in Cooperia species) than oral drenches.
Check for lice on young stock if they are not thriving as this is also a winter problem. Again, consult your vet about suitable products as lice are also developing resistance to chemicals.
Facial eczema should have gone, but watch for its aftereffects. Long-term zinc treatment can strip the copper reserves from the liver, so copper supplementation may be needed. Check with your vet.
Their livers may also have been damaged by the FE toxins, which can result in milk fever when stress comes on at calving. Liver damage can be checked by a GGT enzyme blood test. Vets can do mineral profiles from a liver biopsy on a live animal, or arrange for liver samples to be collected at the meat works if any cull stock are killed. The liver acts like a battery and needs to be charged with minerals over a long period during winter so animals are ready for spring.
If you farm in an area where cattle ticks have become established, and stock show sudden signs of weakness, stop eating and are anaemic, consult your vet to test for the theileria parasite which is spreading rapidly south via cattle ticks in the North Island. With stock movement to other areas, ticks will spread it further afield. Infected ticks can also be spread by goats, horses, domestic pets, rabbits and hares.
Gorse is an ongoing fact of life on our farm. It has managed to get into every corner of this country and we know that all our control work is only that; we’ll never achieve eradication.
If a summer passes without spraying, there will be gorse everywhere again. Leave it two years and it starts blocking out large portions of pasture, with bushes big enough to hide adult cattle.
Some factsheets proclaim that gorse grows 15–30cm per year but it well exceeds that in the Far North. In its early stages, gorse seems to explode out of the ground so a hillside with a dark green haze – indicating the presence of some small plants – will be covered by bushes more than a metre tall, in all their aggressive prickliness, within a year.
Its sudden appearance is partly illusory. When it's small, it can grow through grass unseen, so it may not be until its second year of growth that we notice the usually single-stemmed, knee-high plants. But from that stage it is capable of enormous spurts of growth and that’s why it’s such
| a problem here.
Gorse’s benefits were the reason for its deliberate and continued introduction to New Zealand in the early years of Pakeha settlement. On a trip to Southland a few years ago, I was delighted to see a gorse hedge doing what gorse was primarily brought here to do. It’s also a very good food for bees when covered in its beautiful flowers.
But our climate is much kinder to gorse than its native habitat in the Northern Hemisphere where it was used for effective hedging and animal control. It quickly galloped across the New Zealand landscape, infesting any open space which wasn’t actively managed by humankind. Not understanding how well it would spread, it was also used for erosion control and for animal feed in its early stages, meaning it was deliberately broadcast across large areas, advancing its invasion into more remote locations.
Things could be worse. Fortunately
on this farm there were subsidies available for weed control which helped with the cost of fighting gorse, although compared with today’s prices it was still terribly expensive. During the years between the removal of all the subsidies in the mid-1980s and the expiry of the patents on the most effective chemical control agents, spraying gorse was often prohibitively expensive, especially when farm produce prices remained stubbornly low.
Today, spray for gorse is cheap and with land prices so high, you don’t want to sacrifice pasture to it.
Some sprays will kill grass as well as gorse, so keeping your gorse under control and killing it early in its life means you’ll lose much less grass over time than if you let it get away.
Spraying is a hazardous job because of the nature of the chemicals used. Fortunately it may now be slightly less risky than it used to be as personal protective equipment has improved in effectiveness and comfort and 2,4,5-T is no longer the only option for control.
But for many people exposure to the chemicals involved makes it a job you leave to someone else. I’m fortunate in having a robust partner who appears (so far) to have been unaffected by years of casual exposure to chemical agents used in conventional farming practice. While care was always taken, every Kiwi farmer of his age had a fairly relaxed attitude to chemical use on weeds, sheep and cattle. Those who weren’t so robust have probably succumbed by now. Our awareness of the long-term, invisible (for a while) effects of chemical exposure is now much more informed and it’s not something you want to risk if you don’t have the right gear for the job.
Gorse can be killed in many ways. The best option for your block will be determined by the amount of land you have to manage and the extent of the gorse infestation you face, and your personal philosophy.
There are various herbicides available, usually sprayed onto the plants wherever they stand, but most can also be used in a concentrated form for brushing onto cut stumps if your problem is small.
Spraying gorse usually necessitates the addition of chemical penetrants because of the tough nature of the foliage. If you’re spraying significant areas, addition of a dye can also be very useful so you know where you’ve been.