This is the month to start and take seriously the warnings of another dry summer.
The rain most parts had in November (always a critical month) and December will have been enough. The trouble is that January is still "holiday month" and you don't want to become miserable to friends and family about a drought coming, and precautions against fires on the block.
But it is a good time to check up with neighbours as it's surprising how few folk on small blocks know their neighbours, especially after new subdivisions and new massive houses suddenly appear over the fence.
Some of your neighbours may be new to farming and struggling a bit, especially when all their green paddocks go brown. They will appreciate a bit of advice, especially when they have to spend some unplanned money to buy feed, or get rid of stock. Or worse – they have skinny starved stock in bare paddocks for all passersby to see and some will die.
January is all about soil moisture levels and evaporation rates. Most folk know and talk about rainfall but not how much evaporates into the air each day. Evaporation rates can be around 5mm and up to 6.7mm/24 hours in some Waikato areas in the peak of summer, which with no rain will take weeks to recover. They may not recover at all till winter.
It's vital to understand the importance of "pasture residual", which is what is left after grazing, as leaves are the factories for future growth from photosynthesis. So January is not about growing more pasture – it's more about saving and using what you have in an efficient way, and then hopefully preventing it burning off. Because once the leaves are dead, they can't photosynthesise to produce food to recover.
Dry pasture has very little nutritional value, especially for young stock that you want to keep growing such as calves and yearlings, so feeding supplements is the top priority. It's no good leaving stock to starve assuming that it's going to rain – as even if it does, pastures will not recover and produce meaningful feed till autumn.
If you run out of pasture, silage has the best feed value, but hungry stock will always eat hay even though they'll waste a lot of it. Don't forget the option of feeding willow and poplar prunings, which are high in minerals.
But check the list of toxic trees and shrubs on the property, as they are always more palatable when wilted. Yew and tutu are the real killers so learn to recognise these. Even macrocarpa can cause problems if they eat too much of it when there is no other feed. So be careful what you throw over the fence from garden prunings.
And remember thick thatches of dead foliage is the ideal cover for growth of the facial eczema fungus to produce toxic spores.
Do some sums to see if it's worthwhile to sell some stock now, and make hay of any surplus feed to sell now or later. If pastures continue to dry up, then getting rid of stock is a wise option and accept the financial loss – which could increase if you keep them on.
Sheep don't like hot humid weather, so make sure they've all been shorn and they can get shade and plenty clean water from a trough and not a creek where toxic algae can grow. Flies can be a constant annoyance in the shade as well as out in the sun, so be on the watch for blowfly strike at all times.
The most important job is to get rid of all ewes that are not going to add value to the business next season – and don't delay this decision. It's far better to quit them now and reduce the stocking rate for when pastures dry up and when the sale yards are full of skinny sheep. This really should have been done in November or as soon as lambs were weaned. These old dears are in great demand this year.
Be ruthless when selecting ewes going to the ram next season, and only keep those that are in good body condition, have two good undamaged teats, and no hard lumps in their udders. Only keep ewes that reared a lamb or lambs to weaning, and don't keep any that you know had mastitis.
The best lambs should have been weaned in December so what to do with the "rats and mice" is always a problem on a small block, especially if it gets very dry. Too many flocks have the rams running with the flock all year ending up with small lambs in the heat of summer. It's best to get rid of them and cut your losses, as they'll never grow and will only eat remaining summer and autumn feed needed to build up the ewes for mating. They will never grow into decent sheep anyway, and will cost you time and money later on preventing flystrike, dagging and drenching.
It's the young growing stock, especially dairy weaners that are the main concern through January when it gets hot and humid, when pastures go to seed and feed disappears as the soil dries out.
Young stock need the best pasture to keep growing at least around 0.5 to 0.6 kg/day, but if feed quality drops, then 0.4kg/day or less may have to be accepted. In severe dry situations without supplements they'll stop growing or even lose weight, unless you provide good quality supplements like good silage and not low-quality baleage.
Concentrate meal has the highest feeding value but it's the most expensive and hard to justify the cost unless you have a serious emergency.