Two farmers explain how they look after their cows and environment in the cold and wet
Luke Templeton relies on crops such as kale, swedes and turnips for winter feed but that system does come with challenges.
As Otaitai Bush dairy farmer Luke Templeton checks on his cows, he takes time to give a few of his favourites a scratch and grub the odd weed.
Like most dairy farmers, he takes great pride in having his cows and his farm looking good. However, at times, wet and cold conditions in winter can make this a challenge.
But Templeton and other farmers are prepared. They've spent the last 12 to 18 months growing extra feed and planning how best to manage their paddocks in a way that looks after their cows and the environment.
"We always hope for the best, but plan for the worst," says Templeton.
Like most dairy farmers in Southland, Luke uses crops, such as kale, swedes and turnips, to keep his cows in tip-top condition when grass growth becomes almost non-existent. Another popular crop is fodder beet.
About two-thirds of Templeton's herd will be fed kale, swedes and turnips, along with some baleage to ensure a balanced diet. The remainder, mostly cows due to calve early, will graze on "really dry paddocks" and eat mainly baleage.
Despite the benefits of feeding crops, it's not without its challenges. Once the crops are eaten, the soil is left bare and at risk of turning into mud in wet conditions, if not managed carefully.
Templeton hates seeing cows in mud and does everything he can to keep it to a minimum.
He says farmers use a range of practices to reduce mud to ensure their cows can move freely, have a dry surface to lie down and limit the impact on the environment.
Practices include using back fencing, portable troughs and providing additional feed, such as hay and baleage, and moving the break fence up to three times a day. "I find feeding 5per cent extra means the cows are much more satisfied, lie down more and are more relaxed."
Templeton grazes his cows in small mobs of 100-150 to minimise damage to paddocks and make it easier to check their condition.
"If I can walk between them and they don't all chase me honking and hollering, then that's a good indication that they're full and content."
Ready for winter
Down the road at Ewen Mathieson's farm, it's clear driving up the crop-lined driveway, with baleage strategically dotted every couple of metres, he's also ready for winter.
Mathieson winters a diverse range of animals on-farm, including 910 cows, 250 calves, a handful of sheep and even some goats. He winters all his animals on the farm and produces all his own feed. He feeds the cows fodder beet, kale and swedes, and supplements with baleage.
He leaves grass buffers near critical source areas (low-lying areas where water can pool or flow after heavy rain) and waterways, and determining the best direction to graze paddocks to prevent nutrient run-off and top soil loss.
"We do our best to limit soil damage as much as we possibly can by regularly moving the break fence, back fencing, using portable troughs and supplying extra feed," says Mathieson. "We feed a lot of supplement, up to 4kg of baleage, straw or hay per cow, in addition to the crop. This helps with active rumen function, keeping our cows warm and content, which means they're less likely to be walking backwards and forwards making mud."
He says regularly moving the break fence provides a good chance to monitor his cows and the amount of time they spend lying down is a good indicator they're content.
"There's nothing more rewarding or enjoyable than watching cows lying down chewing their cud. That's when they're most relaxed and content," says Mathieson.