Soil friendly bull wintering system | Beef + Lamb New Zealand

Soil friendly bull wintering system

Matching stock to soil type is what dictates the winter grazing rotation on Mike McCreary’s Wairarapa farm.
Thursday, 14 June 2018

Bordering Lake Wairarapa at just over a metre above sea level, Mike likens farming the 540ha property to farming in Holland. The soils can get very wet in winter and Mike says there are parts of the farm he would never put cattle on over the colder months, but he has established a system that enables him to winter 800 bulls while preserving his soils.

In conjunction with farmer and grazing system designer Tom Chisholm, Mike has set up a “calibrated” grazing system, similar to a technosystem but one in which he can also integrate sheep.

Over winter, the bulls are on a long 96-day round and are shifted every second day. This means they are in each cell just once over winter.

From autumn, he starts slowing the bulls’ summer grazing rotation down to build pasture covers. Balancing nutritional requirements with animal behaviour, he has found the combination of pasture covers of 22000kgDM/ha and two-day breaks keeps the bulls settled.

Run in mobs of 15-18, Mike says the bulls tend to eat a lot on day one and will just lie down on day two, so there is no fighting, digging holes or churning up soils.
“It’s their behaviour that creates the mud.”

Similarly, the size of the cells means the bulls are not congregating in one spot creating nutrient dumps and damaging soil structure.

The length of the rotation means grass is growing over winter, so they are well set-up to make the most of the bulls’ compensatory growth over spring.

Setting up a wintering system to preserve soils is just one of the environmental protection and enhancement measures Mike has undertaken.

Stock water is reticulated, all waterways are planted and he has planted 8-10ha in natives. He has worked alongside the Greater Wellington Regional Council, Iwi and the Department of Conservation on many of these initiatives and cannot speak highly enough about the assistance he has received from all of these entities.

“I couldn’t do it without them.

“It’s about building a whole farm plan and thinking about where you want to be in five to 10-years time.”

In the future he would also like to plant manuka hedges along the farm laneways which. Manuka has disinfectant qualities, captures nitrogen and trimmings can be used to extract manuka oil.

Find out more

For more information on environmentally responsible winter grazing management, go to