It’s getting dry – so don’t wing it!

with Bill Webb
Bill Webb Feed Solutions

Things are starting to dry out in parts of the country. We had 96ml at our Paengaroa yard in December. The December before we had 300ml. By mid-January, as I write this column, we’ve had 7ml so far for January.

Some parts have had more rain but generally it’s getting pretty dry and I can’t see any more rain forecast leading into February.

Because of this, farmers need to do their farm walks, check pastures and look at what their plans are for the next six-nine months. A recalculation of feed budgets may be necessary.

They’ll need to look at how much they’re feeding with current feed stocks they have and how to keep a good core of cows milking through until autumn rains arrive. It may be a case of having to cull underperforming cows.

Northland is very close to being declared drought-stricken. This means farmers there will receive some help from banks – such as extending overdrafts to buy in feed. Whether this will happen here is still unknown but with the predicted healthy milk payout it makes sense to keep milking through if possible until grass arrives. If farms dry off too early and the grass comes, well you’ve still got to feed the cows or pay to have them grazed so you might as well take advantage of the payout for as long as you can.

Other options are 16-hour or Once-A-Day milking – these decrease cow movement to the shed during hot afternoons, which burns a lot of energy. Instead, milk mornings then leave cows in the paddock 24 hours and feed a bit of silage. This slows the round down and keeps them chugging along. It is important to keep an eye on Somatic Cell Counts and cull cows with high SCCs.

There’s a bit that needs to be done to plan for future production and cropping into next season. As I often say: proper planning prevents pitiful performance. Don’t just wing it – it doesn’t always pay off.

Order feed early

It is important to be prepared with supplementary feed when such a dry spell is forecast. It’s better to be pre-armed against possible drought than leave it to the last minute, so make sure you have plenty in stock. We still have maize silage available at a competitive price.  It is a good energy feed so good to milk on, is useful to extend lactation and to prolong the round later on. I feel it’s better to spend a little more money on quality feed o get good results rather than buying cheaper feed and risking getting poor quality, therefore potentially not achieving the desired results.

While checking pastures, farmers should assess which ones to target for renovation; those that are weedy or growing the likes of kikuyu, couch or mercer grass. These paddocks can be part of a spring cropping programme, but it’s best to get rid of unwanted species first while they are active. Spraying out in summer/autumn while these are still growing will get a good kill rate. Then you can put in an annual for winter feed then turn into your spring cropping programme. Weeds that are harder to kill in spring will have already been largely eliminated.  Crops also need to be checked for white butterfly and leaf minor, and sprayed out if required.


This season we started planting maize up to 10 days later than normal and temperatures for December and early-January were down so we’ll probably start harvesting maize a bit later in February.

We struggled to make hay in December because of the weather and we came back in January and the wind blew strongly in the southwest – one day in the hay paddock was 12 degrees Celsius! Now we’re getting to 22-26 degrees but this time last year we were in the 30s. The crops are looking good at this stage and if February is hot the maize will still come ready on time, but if it keeps dry those in lighter soils may struggle with moisture stress. Lower paddocks seem to be growing better this year and higher ground crops are doing fine, so it looks like a good average season.

Please be careful travelling with all the heavy harvest machinery on main and rural roads, and with truck-and-trailer units using driveways.

We offer obligation free, competitive quotes to anyone wanting to purchase supplementary feed including maize silage, grass silage, hay and straw. We also have blocks available for winter grazing – contact us for information.


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