The secret of truly successful farmers

Soil matters
with Peter Burton
Functional Fertiliser Ltd

The last two springs have been excessively wet in most regions, resulting in slower overall growth in part due to treading damage.

In prolonged periods of wet weather animals will cause a mess, that’s inevitable. The choice is whether to make a big mess in a small area by confining stock, or a smaller mess over a larger area by dropping the fence and providing animals with more space.

There’s no correct answer, which is one of the truly endearing aspects of farming. The only report card that matters is the one we set and mark for ourselves.

The consequence of treading damage is slower growth due to too much water and too little air in the soil.

Ideally, soils are 25 per cent air and 25 per cent moisture. This means the spaces between soil particles are sufficiently large enough for excess moisture to drain freely and for air to enter from above, with carbon dioxide and other gasses to be released back to the atmosphere.

Soil is a living breathing organism and when air is squeezed out and ponding results, pasture growth is significantly reduced – not just at that time but often for several months while natural recovery takes place.

Wet winter

In the regions that endured a wet winter and spring, all farms were short of leafy digestible pasture in spring – however, some fared better than others.

On some properties animals had largely retained their condition throughout winter and spring animal performance was little changed from that experienced after a ‘normal’ winter and early spring.

Although animals tell part of the story, it wasn’t just the most highly stocked that had lighter animals and lower-than-expected overall performance.  

The difference between the two groups was almost entirely due to the amount of pasture built during autumn and pushed ahead into winter, with top operators accurately calculating their feed requirements for up to six months ahead.

The growth data for regions is available and a spreadsheet can be put together that contains pasture covers, animal requirements, along with available supplement. It takes some initial work, and a season or two of fine-tuning, however once in place it becomes an invaluable resource.

A number of dairy farm clients use this tool, along with cow conditioning, to determine their drying-off date. Sheep and beef operators using the same system are able to decide in advance how many animals they’ll be able to fully feed through winter.

As soil temperatures drop pasture growth slows and the intervals between grazings necessarily lengthen if a wedge of feed is to be pushed ahead. Long pasture is excellent winter tucker and initial recovery after grazing can be quite astonishing.

Pasture re-growth

Back fencing animals, where practicable, increases speed of pasture re-growth after grazing. People often want a simple recipe, however it will be different for each operator in every district.

Often the amount of land area grazed on any day in winter is as little as one per cent of the total available area. A client with a grazing property in a warm coastal situation successfully maintains a winter grazing interval of 50 days, or two per cent of the total farm area.  Winter crop on hand further alters the equation, however that is easily factored in.

Many people may argue most farmers already plan well in advance, yet very few have any idea of the amount of pasture grown on their own property in a 12-month period, or how to calculate daily maintenance requirements for different classes of stock.

Aside from the obvious financial benefits of planning feed requirements several months in advance, the value that comes with knowing that regardless of in all but the most extreme situations, winter and early spring is already in-the-bag. For more information, call Peter on 0800 843 809.


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