By Justin Kitto

Keeping up good winter grazing standards can help reduce stress for both animals and people onfarm, as many head into the midst of calving.

Greg Mitchell farms in Hawke’s Bay and winters 1600 cows on his 520 hectare dairy farm. At this time of year Greg and his team are focused on ensuring they check the weather forecast, paddock and cow condition daily.

“Our team check the cows every day to make sure they are in good condition, and are eating well,” he says.

Daily checks help identify any issues so they can be managed and corrected before calving. In bad weather, the team can shift stock off crops to sheltered paddocks. Greg has also identified which paddocks have good shelter and are best for calving.

While winter has so far been mild, a wet autumn has meant grazing needs to be managed carefully to avoid mud becoming a problem.

To reduce trampling, the team stand cows off crops after feeding for a couple of hours and keep mob sizes small. Steeper paddocks aren’t used for winter cropping, and they graze any sloped paddocks from the top downwards to reduce mud.

The cows graze on fodder beet, oats and grass. Greg and his team have planted oats as a catch crop after wintering to help utilise any available nitrogen for plant growth. Winter grazing hasn’t been a focus for some North Island farmers in previous years, but new wintering regulations will apply to all farmers across New Zealand in 2023. All farms need to have a wintering plan and will need to plan ahead to assess whether they will need to apply for a consent. Greg says the first step to setting yourself up for winter is to start planning your approach well ahead of time.

“Go and look around your farm to figure out which paddocks would be best for winter crops and for calving on. Every farm is different but you can often find practical solutions which work well for your team and your animals.”

Greg is already choosing his winter cropping paddocks for next winter and has started soil testing to assess nutrient levels in different paddocks.

  • Wintering resources:
  • Justin Kitto is DairyNZ solutions and development lead adviser (wintering).