Farmers and rural support professionals have been invited to attend free drought support events in Southland this week.

Organised by industry organisations, the events are being held in the Combined Sports Complex in Otautau tomorrow and the James Cumming Wing in Gore on Friday, both starting at 10.45am.

A drought committee was set up in Otago-Southland before Christmas, ready to spring into action if required, Beef + Lamb New Zealand southern South Island extension manager Olivia Ross said.

Last Friday, it was decided that support was needed due to the dry conditions in Southland. It had also got to the point where some farmers were wanting to see what others were experiencing and doing.


''With any luck with running this, it will make it rain,'' she quipped.

Conditions in some parts of the region were ''pretty dire'' and warm winds were not helping.

Parts of Otago, including Milton, were also looking ''pretty dry'', although it was more patchy across the region than Southland.

One of the aims of the events was to get a better picture, with every farmer registering rating their own situation on a scale of one to five, Miss Ross said.

It was fortunate that parts of Canterbury and the North Island had got some rain and, if that continued, then there were places for stock to go, she said.

The events would include workshops with Beef + Lamb New Zealand and Dairy NZ with specific dry-weather management information to support decision-making, a combined session on winter crop assessments, decision-making and available support, and finish with a barbecue.

AgResearch scientists said increased heat and humidity raised issues of not only livestock welfare but also production from those animals.

Extensive research over the past 15 years at AgResearch into dairy cows, and how they coped with the heat, had provided important insights for animal management, senior scientist Dr Karin Schutz said.


Cows would change their behaviour to cope in the warm conditions, including drinking more, eating less, seeking out ''microclimates'' in the shade or 'close to water, and orienting themselves differently from the sun.

Research showed that when the air temperature reached 21degC and humidity more than 75%, it could affect the cow's behaviour and milk production could decline, Dr Schutz said.

''If you want to keep up production, you need to keep your animals cool. That can mean providing shelter, increasing access to drinking water, reducing walking distances, and preventing stress.''

DairyNZ animal husbandry team leader Helen Thoday said proactive prevention of heat stress was more cost-effective than trying to manage the consequences once cows became heat-stressed.