With many regions starting to experience increasingly dry weather, DairyNZ is warning farmers to plan ahead for the health of animals, staff and their businesses.
NIWA soil moisture deficit maps show soil moisture levels are significantly below historical averages across the upper North Island, parts of the Waikato, Taranaki, Manawatu, the North Island’s East Coast, Marlborough, Canterbury and Otago.
DairyNZ’s strategy and investment leader Dr Bruce Thorrold says ongoing dry weather can be stressful for farmers. “Planning ahead for how to respond if the dry conditions continue will allow farmers to consider their options and provide confidence about having a plan in place.”
“The use of supplements needs careful consideration, taking into account the costs and benefits, including to cow health.”
Farmers looking at using supplementary feed to fill a feed deficit should consider a number of issues to ensure it is used profitably.
Calculate the maximum supplement price that is affordable, including additional costs associated with supplement use, while still achieving performance goals.
Manage the amount of supplementary feed used to achieve post-grazing residuals of seven clicks – 1500kg of dry matter per ha – or less on the rising plate meter, to ensure minimal substitution of pasture.
Reduce feed demand by reviewing stocking rates and moving unwanted stock off-farm.
“Heat stress has a real impact on cows and it is one of the key factors affecting milk production, but farmers can take steps to manage this,” says Bruce.
When late-January temperatures have been above 21 degrees Celsius, humidity has been more than 70 per cent, which Bruce says is when Friesians and crossbreeds begin to feed less, and milk production reduces. “In Jerseys, production losses only occur when temperatures rise to 25C or more.”
To help keep cows comfortable in warm weather, Bruce says farmers can do a number of things. Ensure ample water is available to cows both day and night by checking flow rates to water troughs are high. Lactating cows need 100 litres per cow per day.
Provide shade – and many farmers use sprinklers and fans in dairy sheds to cool cows too. Avoid giving high fibre feed to cows during the day, as it increases heat load.
Change milking times to avoid the heat of the day. Moving to Once-A-Day milking or three milkings over two days is worth considering as an option.
“Farming through dry conditions does create uncertainty, which can be stressful for everyone on a farm,” says Bruce. “Take care of yourself and your team by planning for everyone to have regular time off to help you farm through a difficult time.”
Additionally, as part of forward planning, it is helpful for farmers to assess Body Condition Scores and decide in advance which stock to dry off if weather conditions remain dry. More information is at: dairynz.co.nz/bcs-strategies
More information on managing through dry conditions is at: dairynz.co.nz/summer. DairyNZ consulting officers are also available to offer advice – phone 0800 4 324 7969.