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Source: Ministry for Primary Industries

The Winter Grazing Action Group says farmers are taking steps to improve wintering systems despite the challenges of COVID-19 restrictions and weather events.

Action group chair Dr Lindsay Burton said it was important everyone worked together to ensure farmers had the right tools to get through winter.

“Ensuring you follow a gradual transition plan when moving your animals from pasture to crop and back again will help prevent issues. This is particularly important for cattle wintered on fodderbeet,” says Dr Burton.

“For farmers, the focus heading into winter should be on providing the right feed at the right time, as well as shelter and easy access to drinking water. Doing this should have the flow-on effect of limiting stock movement and help reduce damage to crop and soil.”

Farmers and rural professionals should refer to the levy organisations websites – Beef+LambNZ, DairyNZ and Deer Industry NZ. They have advice on good winter grazing practices and specific recommendations for transitioning stock onto crop and balancing the diet which differs between the species.

During the lockdown period, Dr Burton says the action group has remained committed to progressing its work to improve wintering practices, meeting virtually to keep up the momentum.

“We recognise the good work that has already been done by farmers throughout New Zealand but particularly in Southland, to improve their wintering systems. The fact that everyone has been so proactive, in spite of the challenges they have faced with adverse weather events and COVID-19 restrictions, should be applauded.”

Following a nationwide anti-grazing campaign which highlighted some Southland cows standing in mud, Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor set up a taskforce which undertook a review of current practices and made 11 recommendations to be taken forward by the pan-sector Winter Grazing Action Group.

The 11 recommendations – Government media release

The recommendations, which included some work to understand and mitigate the causes of the animal welfare consequences from intensive winter grazing practices; and work to recognise the barriers to adopting improved animal welfare practices, have been taken up by the action group with gusto, taskforce chair Dr John Hellström says.

“Improving winter grazing systems is not something that can be achieved overnight but the action group is on the right track and I’m confident that the recommendations the taskforce made are being progressed to ensure improvements for this winter and beyond.”

The action group is focused on educating farmers on careful management when introducing stock to new feed types and ensuring contingency plans are in place to manage any severe or prolonged wet winter weather.

In the short-term, Burton says there are actions farmers can take now to ensure the immediate welfare of their animals, including making appropriate shelter available when needed as well as suitable areas for stock to lie down.

“That could be as simple as planning to graze the best-sheltered paddock last and keeping it ‘up your sleeve’ for a weather event.

“Changing practice will take a long time; this is not a one-winter solution but we will keep working with farmers and sector leaders to improve things now and in the future.”

Background information

Winter grazing techniques were put under the spotlight last year after a nationwide anti-grazing campaign highlighted some Southland cows standing in mud, and prompted the Agricultural Minister Damien O’Connor to set up a taskforce in response.

The taskforce was succeeded by an action group in early 2020 to take forward recommendations ahead of winter.

Taskforce report and recommendations

There are also resources available online to help farmers with their winter grazing management from DairyNZ and Beef+Lamb NZ.

Grazing the winter crop – DairyNZ

Preparing for winter grazing – Beef+Lamb New Zealand

Action group members

  • Lindsay Burton, Independent Chair
  • Ash Keown, Veterinary Manager (Large Animal), NZ Veterinary Association
  • Caroline Murray, Technical Advisor, Dairy Companies Association NZ
  • Helen Thoday, Animal Care Manager, Dairy NZ
  • Tony Pearse, Producer Manager, Deer Industry NZ
  • Julie Geange, Policy Adviser, Federated Farmers
  • Milton Munro, Technical Team Manager, PGG Wrightson
  • Miranda Hunter, Consultant, Roslin Consultancy
  • Peter Young, Consultant, Farm Advisory Services
  • Pania King, Sheep & Beef Farmer and Taskforce member
  • Tim Driscoll, Dairy Farmer, Southern Dairy Development Trust
  • Will Halliday, Senior Adviser Animal Welfare and Biosecurity, ­Beef+Lamb NZ­
  • Leonie Ward, Manager Animal Welfare Sector Liaison, MPI
  • Penny Timmer-Arends, Adviser Animal Welfare Sector Liaison, MPI
  • Gray Harrison, Manager Animal Welfare and NAIT Compliance, MPI