Farmers forced to kill stock as dry drags on

By Cherie Taylor -
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Farmers are slaughtering stock and slashing milk supplies as they face one of the driest summers in nearly a decade.

Dairy farmers are relying on their stock for a record payout, but some animals are being sent to the meat works as feed supplies dry up along with the weather.

In January, only 40mm of rainfall was recorded in Rotorua - the lowest rainfall since January 2001 when 27mm was recorded. About 96mm is the normal for January.

Forecasters say there is little rain on the horizon.

Farmers say they are at desperation point.

Consultants say it's time to plan ahead as they offer crisis advice.

Atiamuri farm manager Dana Richards said the 74ha property she was farming was looking "like a desert".

At least 20 of the herd of 220 cows had been culled to reduce demand on meagre supplies and more could meet the same fate soon, Ms Richards said.

Farmers are currently paying between $1800 to $2500 for a dairy cow and are paid between $350 to $500 to send a cow to the meat works.

With little grass on the ground, Ms Richards fears when it does finally rain the dry grass will be of little nutritional value.

"We really just hope it rains soon. What we do have on the ground is stalky like hay. They can eat it at the moment but if it rains it will rot," she said.

She's been milking on a once-a-day regime for three weeks.

Production for January was down 20 per cent and will continue to drop as she considers drying off more stock. Normally, she doesn't start drying off stock until March.

Currently, Ms Richards is feeding out silage and molasses.

Buying in supplement feed was becoming very expensive with silage more than doubling in price in recent months from about $60 to $140 a bale.

"It's just a vicious circle at the moment. We are getting desperate," she said.

Acording to MetService weather forecaster Oliver Druce the next six days are looking to remain warm and dry.

"Rotorua can expect days and days of fine weather for the next week or so," he said.

Meanwhile, DairyNZ consultant Denis Collins said unless it rained soon, many herds in the region would be dried off, reducing milk solids and hitting farmers' pockets.

To help keep production flowing, farmers could reduce stock and offer alternative feed.

"Many farmers have already gone to once-a-day milking and many have culled a lot of unwanted stock," he said.

A high demand on supplement feed like maize and silage had forced the price up in recent weeks.

"Farmers are really frustrated at the moment.

"They are hoping to capitalise on the high payout. It's quite stressful for them," he said.

However, there are risks involved with feeding out some of the alternative foods.

DairyNZ principal scientist John Roche said inappropriate feeding of tapioca and molasses had led to a condition called acidosis in cows, resulting in poisoning and death.

When too much starch or sugar was rapidly introduced into a cow's diet it produced dangerous levels of lactic acid which could result in death, Dr Roche said.

"Although not ideal from a nutritional perspective, this is not an issue with feeds like palm kernel meal because of the low starch or sugar content.

"However, with feeds like tapioca, cereal, grains or molasses it is a recipe for disaster and the disaster is even greater when cows are hungry," he said.


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