Northland's drought has left the cupboard bare for farmers trying to ensure animals are well fed through the winter.
Beef +Lamb New Zealand general manager North Island Matt Ward said the lack of pasture cover can become an animal welfare issue if pasture is not managed carefully.
The organisation has launched a winter grazing campaign to help farmers ensure that animals are well fed, in good health and the environment is looked after.
Ward said that farmers' usual options in drought conditions is to put the animal where there is feed, provide supplementary feed or destock.
"The widespread drought and Covid-19 restrictions made this more difficult.
"Usually when farmers are running short of feed, they might move the animals to other pockets where there is grass, but this year the drought affected two-thirds of New Zealand so this made finding grazing very difficult,'' he said.
"Destocking was also difficult because the Covid-19 social distancing restrictions meant that the meat processors could not operate at full capacity at first.
"The meat works did put on extra shifts in the processing chains to try to keep up and worked hard to reduce the backlog and farmers really appreciated their efforts,'' he said.
"However, capacity at the works was reduced which made it difficult to get animals away.''
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Ward said Northland's subtropical climate would be helpful in recovering from the severe drought as the soil temperature continued to allow grass to grow through winter once sufficient rain arrived.
"Northland often has more problem growing grass in summer than winter,'' he said.
"In a drought, the ground becomes hydrophobic so that once the rain arrives it can be repelled and you'll get a lot of run-off. Surface flooding becomes a real risk to pasture."
This can lead to damaged pasture, pugging and soil compaction, which destroys soil structure and aeration.
The risk of nitrate poisoning in cattle is increased after a drought as cattle rushed to eat new grass.
"They need some roughage as well as pasture which will be starting to get fully charged with nitrogen after a long drought.''
Ward said farmers are being encouraged to take a proactive approach to preserving their soil and water resources over winter while ensuring animal welfare standards are maintained.
There are tips available on the Beef + Lamb New Zealand's (B+LNZ) website, as well as an App to help with grazing management.
The Feedsmart app assembles a raft of variables to give farmers instant information on the nutritional requirements of different classes of livestock, feed values and feed allocation.
Building on the last year's recommendations from the Ministry for Primary Industries-led Winter Grazing Task Force report, he said this year's campaign had a particular focus on animal welfare.
"It is important stock are provided with loafing areas when they are on winter feed crops. This might mean a run-off block or stand-off pad or even a headland with straw provided as bedding."
Farmers are urged to have contingency plans in case of prolonged bad weather or extreme weather events, so stock are not trampling sodden soils or feed crops.
He recommended strategic grazing across a slope and from the top to protect the downhill pasture from being trampled and using portable troughs to help keep stock in drier parts of the paddock.
Feed breaks should also be kept long and narrow as research has shown the feed with be utilised more efficiently by stock.
Ward said Northland farmers were experts in managing kikuyu grass, which required special management techniques to prevent matting.
He recommended careful consideration of the size of stock units.
"Larger animals will cause more damage so are not appropriate for some parts of the farm.''
Animals needed to be excluded from waterways with an ungrazed buffer zone to reduce contamination of waterways in wet weather.
Stock also needed firm, drier ground in a sheltered area or temporary bedding for animal health, especially during winter months.
The winter grazing campaign is part of an on-going programme of work by B+LNZ and other organisations to inform and encourage farmers to follow best-practice management of their forage crops before, during and after grazing.
B+LNZ's winter grazing campaign is supported by regional councils, DairyNZ and Ballance Agri-Nutrients.
For more information, tips and tricks about winter grazing go to beeflambnz.com/winter grazing
For grazing management calculations, go to feedsmart.co.nz