Case studies share farmer strategies for getting through drought

Delaying ewe mating, reconsidering hogget mating, off-farm grazing and buying in supplementary feed are amongst the strategies farmers have successfully used in past to get through significant feed deficits.

A series of case studies commissioned by Beef + Lamb New Zealand in 2020 details how farmers worked alongside farm consultants to get through droughts and feed deficits caused by processing delays and set themselves up to minimise the residual effects of the previous season.

The case studies were on sheep and beef farmers in Northland, Hawkes Bay, Canterbury and Southland, all of whom employed different strategies in autumn to get through winter and set their farms up for the subsequent spring.

Severely impacted by the 2020 drought, Northland farmers James and Janine Parsons bought Palm Kernel Expeller (PKE) to help grow cattle which would have been difficult to sell on a depressed market. This kept a mob of forward steers on track for slaughter in July, easing pressure on late winter and early spring pastures.

A small quantity of Whole Maize Grain was fed to the tail end ewes in the lead up to mating.

An application of 29t of SustainN on 21 April proved to be the cheapest form of feed at 18.39c/kgDM based on a conservative 10:1 response for hill country.

The extra drymatter grown as a result enabled the purchase of 100 R1 bulls in late April while prices were still depressed. It also gave them the ability to feed stock better through winter.

The Parsons sold 33 R3 bulls in early March at low carcass weights and grazed 260 ewe hoggets off-farm between February and May. This reduced both pressure on the farm and management complexity.

Other decisions made included under-sowing annual ryegrass into chicory rather than just spraying the chicory, delaying tupping by one week and selling surplus ewe hoggets in autumn rather than carrying through to November.

In April 2020, the situation on Conon Kynoch’s Hawkes Bay farm was looking grim, with average pasture covers of 1,000kg DM/ha. While Conon had been proactive and had off-farm grazed breeding cows and was feeding grain to 5-year ewes, the mixed-age ewes were going into mating in light condition.

Close to the Ruahine ranges at an altitude of 430-530m above sea level, winters are long and cold on the property and the farm’s steep terrain meant there was limited ability to supplementary feed stock over winter.

It was therefore critical to build pasture covers before the onset of winter. 

Farm consultant Lochie MacGillivray used Farmax to work through various management options with Conon and amongst the decisions made were to sell surplus stock at lighter weights, delay ewe mating until early May and apply 30kg/ha of nitrogen over 150ha of earlier country in May.

The combination of these, along with the continued supplementary feeding of older ewes, allowed Conon to start building pasture covers and create a feed wedge going into spring.

The later lambing meant ewes were lambing onto higher pastures which helped lactation and lamb survival.

To read more about the Northland, Hawkes Bay, Canterbury and Southland case studies, including detailed financial analysis of management decisions go to our Drought resources page in the Knowledge Hub.