Farmers share drought mitigation strategies

// Feed Planning and Strategies

Off-farm grazing, foetal aging, nitrogen and Palm Kernel expeller were just some of the strategies South Island farmers used to manage and mitigate the effects of the 2015/16 drought.

The drought, which affected Central and Northern South Island regions, was caused by an El-Nino weather pattern, similar to the one affecting the country this year.

After the 2015/16 drought, farmers shared their experiences at a Beef + Lamb New Zealand Farming for Profit field days and outlined the strategies that allowed them to get through the drought and minimise its impact.

Bert Oliver, Mt Somers

Bert and farm owner John Chapman heeded the warnings of a predicted El Nino weather pattern and started planning early.

Bert wrote an action plan in August prioritising specific actions and ticking them off as they happened.

Advocates of early decision-making, they sold a line of unrecorded breeding cows to the North Island to take advantage of stronger cow prices and remove a class of stock that would have struggled in dry conditions. 

To protect the performance of their future breeding stock, they wintered 1500 hoggets and 140 heifers off-farm.

Tom Maxwell, Scargill

The North Canterbury farmer felt the money spent on off-farm grazing a proportion of his ewe flock was money well spent.

The ewes returned home in good condition and fed their lambs well. This allowed Tom to skim draft and wean his August-born terminal sire lambs in early November.

Tom found foetal aging at scanning to be a valuable tool during the drought as it enabled him to draft the ewes into three lambing date lines and manage feed accordingly.

Henry Shield, Cheviot

Henry found palm kernel expeller (PKE) to be a valuable supplement feed during the 2015/16 drought.

He started feeding his ewes PKE in mid-February 2015 and while it took them a short time to get used to the feed, it did put condition on them.

Henry fed 300g of PKE per ewe per day over mating which was around a quarter of the ewes’ diet. At other times, PKE made up 20 per cent of his ewes’ maintenance requirements.

The ewes were fed PKE right through until lambing. While copper toxicity can be an issue with PKE, Henry didn’t have animal health problems with the feed.

Jo and David Grigg, Marlborough

Following a crippling drought in 1997, the couple changed their farm system to future-proof their business against future droughts.

Annual clover-based pastures (particularly subterranean clovers) underpin their system but in droughts, strategies that they use include grazing hoggets off-farm, setting cut-off dates for decisions and prioritizing stock classes to sell.

Tim Hawke, North Loburn

Tim is an advocate for using Body Condition Scoring as a tool to help make the most efficient and effective use of limited feed resources.

Over a particularly dry summer, he Body Condition Scored his ewes four times, pulling out and strategically feeding lighter ewes on grain.

As a result of this concerted effort, only two or three ewes were below an optimum BCS at scanning and this was reflected in the scanning percentage.

Mark Stevenson, Cheviot

Sheep and beef farmer Mark Stevenson designed a template to be used an evolving drought plan to be reviewed every week to 10 days.

It covers stock priorities, feed position, feed demand and supply, financial status and decision-making. 

The template can be found here (PDF, 173 KB)

Other drought resources and information can be found on the Knowledge Hub.