Dry weather starts to bite

Scorching temperatures and minimal rainfall over recent weeks is concerning farmers throughout the country as feed quality and quantity falls away and feed crops struggle in the extreme heat.
Friday, 8 December 2017

The hot, dry weather follows a particularly wet and growthy winter and spring, so while many areas have had ample feed available, the situation changed dramatically in late November.

North Canterbury farmer and Northern South Island Farmer Council chairman James Hoban, says while buoyant lamb and ewe prices and plentiful feed had sheep and beef farmers feeling particularly positive, there was growing concern about the hot weather and how quickly things have turned around.

On the back of prolonged drought in North Canterbury, the wet winter and spring had enabled farmers to replenish supplies of conserved feed and start rebuilding stock numbers, and while it is too early to ring alarm bells, Hoban urged farmers to start thinking about putting a plan in place in case the dry weather continues.

Silver Fern Farms livestock representative Dave Hannah services the North Canterbury region and says while farmers are not killing to lighter weights yet, they are working to ensure all lambs that are ready are getting on the truck.

He says feed quality had declined rapidly and while feed crops had struck, they have not grown due to the lack of moisture and extreme heat. This means farmers have nothing to wean lambs onto. While there was still some cautious optimism that rain will turn the season around, Hannah says farmers have been putting management strategies in place such as early weaning and getting rid of cull ewes as quickly as possible. 
 
Beef + Lamb New Zealand’s Northern South Island Extension Manager Sarah O’Connell says the organisation has a number of resources available to support farmers through extreme weather events, such as drought.

“There is a raft of resources available at www.beeflambnz.com to help farmers put strategies in place to minimise the impact of this hot, dry weather.”

She urged farmers to consider using management tools such as early-weaning and Body Condition Scoring (BSC) their ewes and beef cows. BCS, she says, is a simple, low-cost way to make the most effective and efficient use of limited feed resources.

“Body Condition Scoring ensures feed is partitioned into stock that actually need it and is not wasted on overfeeding well-conditioned stock.”

She says farmers could consider selling lambs and cattle as store, rather than struggling to finish stock at the expense of the condition of capital breeding stock.

“It is critical to protect the reproductive performance of your breeding stock. Setting ewes and cows up for a successful lambing and calving next season will help ensure the effects of this dry weather are not felt in subsequent seasons.”

Other strategies farmers may consider is buying in grain to help flush ewes going into mating, off-farm grazing and not mating hoggets.

Western North Island Extension Manager Jason Griffin says farmers he has spoken to are getting as many lambs away prime as possible – and while they weren’t quite at the point of drafting to lighter weights or selling lambs store – they were getting close to it.

“Farmers are busy shearing and weaning and waiting to see what impact that has – and hoping rain is imminent.”

He says while some areas had benefited from localised downpours caused by thunder storms, most parts of the region were very dry with many feed crops failing through a lack of moisture.

Like O’Connell, he urges farmers to make use of the many resources available to them through B+LNZ and agencies such as the Rural Support Trust and Farmstrong to help them get through this extreme weather.

“Farmers need to ensure they look after themselves and their neighbours during this time. Climatic events such as droughts can be very stressful, so farmers should not be afraid to reach out and seek support from friends, colleagues and rural professionals- there are many people only too willing to help.”

For more information and resources

Read our Extreme Dry Management Toolkit