Animals are at the heart of wintering well

Well-fed cows like to lie for much of the day. By Justin Kitto.

Southland dairy farmer Luke Templeton.

We have all been feeling the colder weather creep in, and with the winter officially here, farmers are getting ready for the months ahead.

Farmers are passionate about their farms and their animals, no matter the season, and regional councils,

Ministry for Primary Industries and other sector bodies have been recognising farmers’ wintering efforts, including keeping our animals comfortable.

We know that lying time is very important to cows as it provides rest, opportunity to sleep and reduces the risk of lameness, which leads to better welfare outcomes.

When cows are well fed, have suitable soft lying surfaces, space available and are not exposed to adverse weather conditions, they prefer to lie for 10-12 hours a day.

Great work from the Southern Dairy Hub has shown that soil moisture conditions, in particular surface water, results in cows not getting enough lying time.

There are many innovative actions that farmers can use to ensure their cows get sufficient lying time, including:

  • Shifting cows to a drier, lower-risk paddock or to sheltered paddocks,
  • Saving crops positioned in drier or more sheltered areas for grazing during wet weather,
  • Increasing the feeding area by giving cows a fresh break,
  • Rolling out straw for cows to lie on,
  • Providing cows with access to the area behind the back fence (if suitable for lying on).

It is also important to put cows in mobs based on calving dates to help monitor and manage herds.

This makes it simpler to move cows off-crop two weeks before calving to provide the best conditions and outcomes for the herd and ensure no calves are born on crop.

Southland dairy farmer Luke Templeton applies a range of good wintering management practices suited to his farm. He says they always hope for the best over winter, but plan for the worst.

“It is never about if we get bad weather, it’s always about when and considering what you will do to look after your animals and your people no matter the weather.”

His animals are checked twice a day to observe the condition of the cows and the ground, including looking for lying bowls where they have got themselves comfortable and settled down in more sheltered or warm areas.

Luke says if the conditions seem a bit too wet, they use their contingency plan, typically by doing an additional shift of the break fence to provide a fresh lying surface.

They also use portable troughs and provide additional feed, such as hay and baleage, along with moving the break fence up to three times a day.

Find further information and resources at

  • Justin Kitto is DairyNZ lead adviser – wintering