Farming through dry conditions


Ongoing dry weather can be stressful. Planning ahead for how you will respond in dry conditions could provide confidence.

The year has gotten off to a dry start in many New Zealand regions, with rainfall in short supply and growing conditions becoming more challenging for farmers.

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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.

"Ongoing dry weather can be stressful. Planning ahead for how you will respond if the dry conditions continue will allow you to consider your options and feel confident you have a plan in place," says Dr Bruce Thorrold.

Use supplements wisely

"The use of supplements needs careful consideration, taking into account the costs and benefits, including to cow health," says Dr Bruce.

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 (including additional costs associated with supplement use) you can afford to pay 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 hectare) or less on the rising plate meter to ensure minimal substitution of pasture
  • educe feed demand by reviewing stocking rates and moving unwanted stock off-farm.
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Bruce Thorrold

Managing heat stress for cow comfort

"Heat stress has a real impact on cows, and it’s one of the key factors affecting milk production, but farmers can take steps to manage this," says Dr Bruce.

When temperatures are over 21 degrees and humidity is more than 70%, friesians and crossbreeds begin to feed less and milk production reduces. In jerseys, production losses only occur when temperatures rise to 25 degrees or more. To help keep cows comfortable in warm weather, farmers can:

  • 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 a day.
  • provide shade. Many farmers also use sprinklers and fans in dairy sheds to cool cows.
  • avoid giving high fibre feed to cows in daytime 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 twp days is worth considering as an option.

Take care of your team

"Farming through dry conditions does create uncertainty, which can be stressful for everyone on a farm," says Dr 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 your forward planning, it’s helpful to assess body condition scores and decide in advance which stock you will consider drying off if weather conditions remain dry. More information is available at dairynz.co.nz/bcs-strategies.     

More information on managing dry conditions on farm is available at dairynz.co.nz/summer. DairyNZ consulting officers are also available to offer advice. Call 0800 4324 7969.

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