November is a critical month for pastures with the rain we get now dictating growth for early silage in case predictions for another dry summer turn out to be right.
Grass should be bursting out of the ground in most parts, certainly where regular fertiliser applications have been applied. But as the grasses grow they shade out the white clover and you'll only see the red flower heads standing up. If your pastures are struggling, then the chances are very high that you have too many stock.
Silage is the way to preserve the greatest amount of nutrients in the original pasture. It's far too early to think about hay, which at best only preserves about 15 per cent of the original nutrients.
But we all know that silage has problems as contractors' big machines are designed for large farms, and produces 800kg round bales, which can be a pain to feed out. Small square bales are a good option as it's easier to remove small slices from them, but few contractors want to bother with them and they add to costs. These bales are still heavy to handle for one person.
Talk to your silage contractor early on about the best time to cut (usually when 15 per cent of seed heads are showing), and how long the cut grass should be left to wilt to increase its Dry Matter (DM) content. If the cut grass gets too dry, it's harder to compress in the bale to squeeze out all the air and ensure a good fermentation. If this happens, then the result is called balage and is of lower feeding value than silage.
Also, talk to your contractor about additives to help the fermentation, and don't stack bales more than two high and fence them off from stock immediately. Anything that punctures the bales (rats, magpies and pukekos) with let air in and moulds will grow and lower feed quality, as well as being a health risk to handlers.
GRAZING THE SURPLUS
If you don't want to make silage from surplus pasture, then just graze it off by rotating what stock you have quickly around the block, accepting that this will be wasteful, as a lot of the pasture will be trampled into the ground and rot, and even slow up the subsequent growth.
A solution could be to buy in extra stock but this has problems with cost as it's what is called 'the grass market' when everyone else wants to buy stock to eat surplus grass too. It's no good buying young stock like dairy weaners or yearlings, as they are expensive and don't eat enough to make an impression on long pasture. 'Forward stores' which are near to finishing are good, but they also are expensive as they are in big demand at this time of year.
A good option for a small block needing hungry mouths is to buy skinny 'boner' dairy cows, which will have been starved on a dairy farm, and will willingly devour anything they are given. For a range of reasons the sale yards have these skinny old girls all year round which is a terrible waste. The good thing about them is that they are quiet to handle, are always hungry and you can sell them on a weight basis direct to the works when finished. Buy the smaller Jersey x Friesians types as they won't pug the paddocks like large Holstein Friesians do and they'll be cheaper and fatten quicker.You may be able to borrow some big cattle from a neighbour (e.g. a dairy farmer). These are a good option, but don't take up any offers of calves, goats or sheep — and certainly not horses.
Lambs should be growing fast and competing with their mothers for grass, with good lambs growing at 300kg/day. They may be sucking their mothers with great enthusiasm still but they won't be getting much milk. Only very late lambs might still be getting milk from their mothers.
So it's a good time to start making plans for weaning and keep the lambs growing on the best feed if you want to get rid of some before Christmas when prices are high. The other reason is to give the ewes a rest and build up body condition after lactation.
Early-born lambs should be over 20kg and getting near 30kg live weight. Use the bathroom scales to check a sample of them. Some should be good enough to grade prime for the early export market, and will be in short supply this year. Get quotes before selling them privately if possible, as a small lot at the local saleyards where you'll have transport, commission and yard fees to pay.
Don't neglect the ewe lambs to keep for replacements, as they need to be well-grown and over 40kg if you plan to mate them as hoggets in autumn.
It's time to start thinking about getting the wool off sheep in most parts of the country. This dictates when you shear rather than the time of year, remembering that the Animal Welfare Act says that sheep must be shorn at least once per year. Sadly wool is still a disaster in terms of profitability and is not likely to change as far ahead as the market goes in the next few years.
The end of the month is the time to plan to sort out the ewe flock and identify any ewes that need culling. Get rid of them as soon as possible as they are good money at present. Get rid of all ewes with persistent foot rot but remember you cannot offer lame sheep in a public saleyard.
Dairy weaner sales are still going, and prices have been good for top calves. Buying good dairy weaners on a weight basis is regularly a better idea than rearing calves from birth when folk forget to add in all the costs — especially the labour involved. Check what vaccinations any young stock need with your vet.
If you are selling any calves, to get the best price, offer groups of similar sized calves that are clean around the rear end. By law you cannot offer animals with health problems for sale, although you see plenty of calves at sales that should never have left home, and the agents are very remiss in accepting them.
If buying dairy weaners to grow on, only buy healthy ones. Make sure that they have been properly dehorned with a cauterising iron so horns won't grow again — and cost you veterinary charges to get them done properly later. Dehorning or disbudding of all cattle must now be done using an anaesthetic. Meat works now charge a penalty for slaughtering horned stock as they can cause damage to hides, meat, slaughtering facilities and handlers.
If you get a stock agent to buy weaners (or any cattle) for your block, make it clear that you don't want stock with horns. If this is ignored — refuse to unload them and change your agent.
Cows suckling calves with still be milking well and need plenty of feed, and fast growing calves will be eating a lot of grass in competition with their dams. So any cows that have been suckling more than one calf will be getting thin with all the milk they are producing, so wean some of the calves if this is happening, as the drain on the cow's body reserves will delay them coming on heat when the bull goes out.
If weaned calves are not doing better than 1kg/day right now on pasture without supplementary meal, then you need to find out why. They could have a health problem such as worms so check with a veterinarian.
All leased bulls coming on to your property should have been tested for TB, BVD and now M bovis. All reputable suppliers of leased bulls are highly reliable and guarantee this now. They will immediately replace a bull with any problems.
• Dr Clive Dalton is from LSB (Lifestyle Block) NZ