Some Action for the Summer Dry

According to some of my clients the dry is about three weeks earlier than usual, or normal. What's normal anyway?

Having been through a number of very dry seasons and watched the industry closely, there a number of do's and don'ts when you get an early dry summer. The dust clouds that are following the cows down the race to the cow shed are a sure indicator it is getting very dry.

It is summer, and it does get hot and dry. Probably not much hotter, or much drier than many seasons before, but it always feels worse. Another example is a cold frost in the winter always feels like the worst frost we have had, but it's probably not true.

The weather is the weather and no amount of agonising or worrying is going to change the weather. So we need to forget about the weather, and focus on what we can do on the farm, and some of the practical things we can do to make a difference.

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    Rotation length is crucial. I encourage my clients to try and get out to a 35 day rotation by Christmas – New Year period. This rotation extension must be done pre-Christmas, when there is still plenty of growth and feed around. One way to get an extension started is to drop out a few bigger paddocks, and then cut them in half for the night feed. Farmers on 20-25 day rounds now without a lot of supplementary feeding will be feeling the pinch.

    My seasonal recommendation for rotational length is slow after calving, then 20-25 days over spring, supplements off as early as possible, extending the rotation to 30-35 days by Christmas – New Year period. 35-40 days over the summer and by April pushing out to 45 days and then by May the drying off period is out 90-100 days. This appears to have the best growth and sets the best period between grazing for the pastures to recover. It also allows pastures to store carbohydrates in their root system which helps them to recover faster.

    Do prepare for annual summer drys. Turnips harvested by the cows, silage and so on, help make provision for the summer dry. Feeding off of crops should be done judiciously, with under-sowing straight into the stubble by early April. We levelled our paddocks in the spring so we could sow into a consolidated seed bed once the crop had been grazed-off. I remember on one dry season we tried to cultivate and sow down pasture in the autumn, but it was a summer dry and the soil was dry and powdery and consolidation would not occur and we could not get a decent seed bed. It took a number of years for that paddock to produce properly.

    Do put all non-producing stock behind a wire. That means empty cows, bulls, steers and cows that need drying off. Low producing cows should be dried-off and culls taken out early and sold to the works and off the farm. Sure, you might get a bit more if you hang on to them and fatten them up a bit, or they might produce a bit more milk, but what you are doing is taking the pressure off the existing cows and off the existing feed situation. If replacements are being kept on the property put them behind a wire too.

    Do consider changing the number of milkings that you are doing to once a day milking or three times in two days. It just takes the pressure off the animal and seems to maintain production and negate too much weight loss in the stock. I am a great advocate of the three times in two days milking; it works like a treat with minimal production loss. It is not a rigid 18 hour milking system either; it is just normal time this morning, after tea tonight and lunchtime tomorrow and then back to the morning milking. Quiet milkings are essential to allow a decent oxytocin production and a good milk let down which will reduce cows drying off.

    Do plan now to ensure that you have good pastures for next season. Under-sowing this autumn with new species will ensure better pastures for next season. Seed can be sourced through your traditional suppliers or cheaply direct from the South Island. I had a client that under-sowed his whole farm two seasons ago in the autumn with seed from the South Island and the results are nothing short of spectacular.

    Do clean out your troughs and make sure the water is clean. Troughs half full of grass and dirt carried in by the mouth of the cows becomes a bug infestation. The bugs breed in the murky water and if the trough gets down, your cows end up drinking dirty infested water. My 'acid test' is could you drink the cows water at a push, or is it just too dirty and smelly. Clean out the holding tanks too, these often get full of gunk and dirt as well. Check the pumps are all in good working order and do the preventative maintenance thing there. When you are cleaning out your troughs it's often a good idea to put in half an egg cup of copper sulphate to sterilise the trough and this also provides some additional copper to the cows.

    Do not get down about the dry period. Try and maintain a positive outlook. Get busy on a project or something else, take up a hobby, go water skiing on the lakes, but don't go down the back of the farm and worry and brood behind the hedge. Stock short of feed is the number 1 issue and worry for the farmers. Taking action early can be the best thing you can do. Rotation length, supplementing feeding and adequate water are the key issues.
In summary, think about the issues, draw up a plan and take action. Do ensure a longer rotation length, do prepare for those parts of the season, do restrict the intake of all non-milkers, do clean out your troughs and improve your water system, and don't let it do your head in. Maintaining a plan and a positive outlook is essential and keep in touch with your financiers so they are in the loop too.


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