Correctly managing winter feed crops benefits the farm and environment

The feeding of winter forage crops is becoming an increasingly contentious practice due to its environmental impacts and animal welfare implications.
Tuesday, 2 July 2019

Matt Ward, Beef + Lamb New Zealand’s General Manager North Island, says the management of winter feed crops will be under the spotlight again this year, with regulatory bodies concerned about the impact this ubiquitous practice has on water quality.

Sediment and nutrient losses as a result of poorly managed winter grazing is a cause for concern and he urges farmers to adopt best-practice feed crop management. These include identifying and protecting Critical Source Areas (CSA) and grazing slopes from the top to the bottom. This allows the crop to act as a filter for any soil and water losses.  

Other recommended management practices include back-fencing forage crops in wet weather to minimise pugging and having a dry stand-off paddock, or loafing area for animals to lie down and get off the crop in bad weather. 

Matt says Pastoral21 trial work carried out at Telford Research Farm showed that the protection of CSAs and strategic grazing management can reduce soil and phosphate losses by 80-90%.

This benefits the farm by retaining soils and nutrient resources within the paddock. Following best -practice feed crop management also benefits livestock as they will standing on drier ground and feed utilisation will be improved. 

To help farmers with their wintering programme, Beef + Lamb New Zealand has developed a winter grazing workshop that connects good management practice guidelines with practical on-farm applications.

Matt says the workshop brings together all the winter grazing resources developed in recent years around managing livestock and crops to minimise the environmental impacts of this practice.

It covers pre-grazing management – such as carrying out a paddock warrant of fitness – and identifying key risks to both animal health and welfare and the environment.

The workshop is set up in a modular form and includes seasonal-related modules for planning the crops, grazing management through winter and post-grazing paddock management.

As well as being presented through the workshops, items such as the paddock warrant of fitness are available for farmers through the B+LNZ Knowledge Hub on the organisation’s website.