With the excess rain in late winter, and worse in places the expected spring growth has been slow to arrive, and much of it has been pugged into the ground. So as soil temperatures rise this month pastures should be showing good growth, especially any that have had a dressing of Nitrogen. If not, then find out why, and what to do about it. Applying Nitrogen fertiliser is just a short term, and the problem is more likely to be low overall soil fertility, combined with overstocking.
Taking a careful look at what’s growing (especially weeds) will tell you a lot about soil nutrient status, as will a soil test. Too many small farms have not had lime for decades, and until soil pH is fixed, then the other main nutrients of N, P. K and S will not be fully effective.
Good pasture (grass and clover) is not free feed. It has cost you rates, fertiliser, water, fencing and labour, so when a surplus arrives, none should be wasted, especially with the prospect of another dry summer.
Pasture has the best feeding value when in the green, leafy ‘vegetative stage’, and not when it starts to grow long, becomes fibrous and races to go to seed. And the best and cheapest way to keep it that way is by grazing management, where after grazing plants are given time to build up feed reserves from their leaves to be stored in the roots, to then feed the leaves again. On too many farms, especially those with horses that can graze right to soil level, the leaves never get a chance to grow.
Rotational grazing where stock move around the farm is the best way to do this, but most folk don’t have enough area and it can lead to pugging in wet weather. So animals are ‘set stocked’ and graze the total area down to a well mown lawn. This in no way provides enough feed for them to meet their needs, especially if suckling offspring.
When you think pasture growth is getting out of control, start to rotate the stock faster so they are just knocking the top off. Then when that’s not enough, decide which paddocks to close up for silage. At this stage forget about saving paddocks for hay; this comes later when pasture has gone beyond 15% seed heads, which is the limit for quality silage. Confirm you booking with your silage and hay contractor, as they have to plan too.
With the publicity and concern these days over environmental issues, there is increasing interest (and endless arguments) over the merits of ‘biological farming’, ‘organic farming’ and ‘biodynamic’ farming. It can all be a bit of a mystery so be careful when talking to enthusiasts of each, and folk trying to sell you cheaper options. Conventional fertiliser providers will probably rubbish all these options so if you need help, try to find some independent help based on science. It may not be easy.
Many think that that ‘biological farming’ is a middle path between the extremes of organic and biodynamic farming, and hence is more acceptable as it can be carried out without the need for registration and auditing, as well as keeping up with all the detailed protocols.
The problem is that information on all these systems always seems to be given in general terms, and it’s often more clear as to what they are not, rather than what they are. So be aware of enthusiasts and claims made on limited evidence on how these systems will improve your profits and lifestyle. And be especially wary of sales folk who claim they can treat your whole farm for a fraction of conventional fertiliser costs, and how their product will enhance the environment.
Be prepared for a late cold snap and a classical ‘feed pinch’ when pastures may stop growing. The best action is to bring the closed-up saved paddocks back into the grazing round again (if you have any), as it’s very bad practice to cut feeding levels to stock at this time of year.
Advertising hype seems to be increasing to grow special crops such as chicory, plantain, lucerne and lucerne to supplement pasture and counteract drought, but on small blocks this is rarely possible because of lack of area. Then there are also forage crops such as kale, rape, turnips and fodder beet being pushed at farmers. Avoid these options for small farms, as there are too many management problems, which cost money and may not be economic.
On many small blocks, lambs can arrive from mid winter to Christmas because rams run with the ewes all year round. The result is lambs of all sizes on ewes, all competing for the same grass as there are not enough paddocks for good feed control.
Immediately after lambing is time to start identifying ewes that will not have earned their keep for the season. Mark them for culling and get rid of them early. Also cull all ewes with chronic footrot as they are just a source of infection for other sheep.
Some young lambs may get foot scald in wet and lush grass, but it often cures itself when conditions dry up. Treat any bad cases where animals are suffering. Young lambs may also get arthritis showing stiff legs and clearly are not happy. Check with your vet for the best current way to deal with these problems.
Promotion of worm drenches is relentless accompanied by special giveaways. Ewes should not need a drench as they have developed an immunity to worms, and if lambs are scouring, before buying any product, send some faecal samples to your vet for a Faecal Egg Count (FEC) to see if parasites are the problem. Due to the increasing risk of drench resistance in worms, you need veterinary advice as to which is the correct product to use to fix the problem. Check advice on best practice in the ‘Wormwise’ programme on the Internet.
The length of the wool dictates shearing these days, as the market requires wool no longer than 100mm because of the demands of modern processing machinery. So plan to shear twice a year to achieve this, as if you try to sell long crossbred full fleece wool, you’ll get very little for it.
There is a major concern this year over contamination of wool with thistle heads, and lack of good fleece preparation. Talk to your shearer about this. The key is to keep the main ‘body wool’ separate from wool from all other parts of the sheep. These are bellies, bits and pieces that drop off during shearing, and especially dirty wool and dags, along with wool that has been raddle marked. The are worth next to nothing.
Avoid dipping or spraying any sheep for at least 6 weeks before shearing, as overseas wool buyers don’t want our chemicals ending up in their environment. After shearing, if you need to treat sheep for external parasites and blowfly, leave it till they have grown about 25mm of wool so the chemical sticks. Talk to your vet about the appropriate products to use, again because external parasites are also getting more resistant to chemicals.
It’s not easy on a small block without good handling facilities and a shearing machine plant to keep sheep free from dags. Dags on ewes can then soil the lambs as they try to find the ewe’s teats and run against their dams when closely penned. Sheep need to be kept clean to avoid the terrible pain and stress caused by being eaten alive by blowfly maggots at this time of year. Dagging should be done before shearing unless your shearer will do the job at the same time.
The first ‘dairy weaner’ sales start this month in the North Island, and this year with the beef exports looking good, weaner prices could be high. Some prices for early sale calves are often ridiculous, so make sure you buy on weight, and don’t pay above the meat schedule price per kg. Don’t trust weigh tapes for an accurate weight.
It’s always disappointing to see how many poor calves are offered at sales, with so much good information available these days on calf feeding and rearing. So be wary of groups of cheap calves, or any offered for sale where a poor one has been slipped in to the mob. This happens! They’ll soak up all the profit on the others, as they’ll need extra vet treatment to keep them going and they’ll never catch up with well-grown mates. Be wary of buying calves on Facebook!
Before you buy any weaners, make sure they have been properly disbudded using a cauterising iron. Some calves dehorned with caustic paste end up being a mess and the horns re-grow. You don’t want added veterinarian charges to fix problems later, or be charged a $50 penalty for horns at meatworks.
At the same time as the dairy weaner sales, there are still some late-born feeder calves for sale. Don’t be tempted to buy these at this time of year, with the prospect of a dry summer coming. Calves should be growing at least 1kg/head/day on pasture and weaned off meal. If they are not growing well, get veterinary advice to look first at their feeding regime and then possible health problems.
Don’t drench calves for worms, and certainly don’t use a pouron treatment unless the need is confirmed by a Faecal Egg Count (FEC) by your veterinarian. Young calves should not need an anthelmintic as their immunity should still be high from their colostrum and they should not have ingested many worm larvae at this stage of their lives.
Cows suckling calves should still be milking well, so make sure they are fully fed and have plenty of clean water. Their calves will be grazing too and need good pasture. If these ‘suckler cows’ get thin, they won’t come on heat, and probably won’t hold to early services, and will certainly be the case if cows are suckling more than one calf. Generally beef breed suckler cows keep their condition – it’s that with dairy genes that ‘milk off their backs’ are the ones that need extra feed.
Start planning to procure any bulls needed for mating beef cows in November (North Island). Bulls are dangerous animals so the main questions are – do you really need a bull and for how long? If you have an old bull on the property from last season, get it vet checked as there’s always a surprisingly high number of bulls that have infertility and libido problems, so vet checking is essential. There are plenty of bulls available for lease, which is a good option.
If you have bulls on the property that you don’t trust – get rid of them to the works, as if you don’t like them – they probably don’t like you!
When using Artificial Insemination (AI) or Artificial Breeding (AB) which is the same thing, there are a few issues to consider. Veterinarians can offer a programme to bring cows on heat using drugs, but this involves a number of visits, ending up being expensive.
The other option is to let nature takes its course and you decide when the cow is on heat from its behaviour, and then contact an AB service provider to come and inseminate the cow. You will have to discuss this with them beforehand, to see if they will provide a service for small herds. There could be trained inseminators in your area who could help with advice – especially on heat detection and the right time to inseminate the cow. See our website.
- Keep the farm diary and records up to date.
- Pay the bills regularly.
- Boost your security as rural crime is on the increase. Stock are growing and can be easily stolen if near the roadside. If you have to go away for a few days, put your most valuable animals out of sight of the road.
- Bikes, fuel and food are high priority items among rural thieves. Keep your road gate shut all the time, and reverse the top hinge so it can’t be lifted off when locked.
- Confirm bookings with silage and hay contractors.
- Before pastures are shut up for conservation, check there’s no rubbish such as metal fence standards left around which could damage machinery.
- And check all gates are wide enough and open easily ready for contractors with large machines later in the season.
- Don’t be conned to buy anything based on fancy advertising.
- Don’t graze any stock on the road verge, and check your personal liability insurance.