Farm Advice: Animals are the heart of wintering well

By: Justin Kitto, DairyNZ lead advisor – wintering


DairyNZ shares some advice on how to keep farm animals comfortable during the colder months

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Southland dairy farmer Luke Templeton

We’ve all been feeling the colder weather creeping in, and with the winter season officially here right across the country, farmers are getting ready for the months ahead.   

Farmers are passionate about their farms and their animals, no matter the season, and regional councils, MPI, and other sector bodies have been recognising farmers’ wintering efforts, including keeping our animals comfortable.

Keeping cows comfortable

We know that lying time is important to cows, as it provides rest and an opportunity to sleep and reduces the risk of lameness, which leads to better welfare outcomes.

When cows are well fed, have suitable soft lying surfaces and ensure they are not exposed to adverse weather conditions. They prefer to lie for 10 to 12 hours per day.
Some great work from the Southern Dairy Hub has shown that soil moisture conditions, in particular surface water, results in cows not getting enough lying time.

There are many actions that farmers can use to ensure their cows get sufficient lying time, including:

  • shifting cows to a drier, lower-risk paddock, or to sheltered paddocks,
  • saving crops positioned in drier or more sheltered areas for grazing during wet weather,
  • increasing the feeding area by giving cows a fresh break,
  • rolling out straw for cows to lie on, and
  • providing cows with access to the area behind the back fence (if suitable for lying on).

It’s also important to put cows in mobs based on calving dates to help monitor and manage herds. This makes it simpler to move cows off-crop two weeks before calving to provide the best conditions and outcomes for the herd and ensure no calves are born on crop.

Wintering in action

Southland dairy farmer Luke Templeton applies a range of good wintering management practices suited to his farm.  He says they always hope for the best over winter but plan for the worst.

"It’s never about if we get bad weather, it’s always about when and considering what you will do to look after your animals and your people no matter the weather."

His animals are checked twice a day to observe the condition of the cows and the ground, including looking for lying bowls where they have gotten comfortable and settled down in more sheltered or warm areas. Luke says if the conditions seem a bit too wet, they use their contingency plan, typically by doing an additional shift of the break fence to provide a fresh lying surface.

They also use portable troughs and provide additional feed, such as hay and baleage, along with moving the break fence up to three times a day. 

Find further information and resources at dairynz.co.nz/wintering.

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Visit the DairyNZ team in the Pavilion at sites PC 44, 46, 48, at Mystery Creek from 14 to 17 June. 

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