Managing forage crops in the depths of winter

// Feed Planning and Strategies

As wintery weather makes conditions challenging for livestock and people, Beef + Lamb New Zealand is reminding farmers grazing winter forage crops to continue to implement good management practices.

image of cows grazing forage crops

Beef + Lamb New Zealand's Principle Advisor Environmental Policy, Dr Paul Le Miere, says as it is the middle of winter, there is a lot of stock grazing winter forage crops around the country and it is important that farmers implement management practices that protect animal welfare as well as their soil and water resources.

"We are encouraging farmers to maintain the momentum this winter and plan for bad weather ahead of any winter storms.”

"Continued good management this year will also help us as we work with the Government on a more practical farm plan-based approach to managing winter grazing," he says.

To minimise damage to winter forage crops during snow or prolonged wet weather, the provision of a sheltered, well-drained paddock with access to water and feed supplements will help protect soils and crops and maintain animal welfare.

Cattle can be held on straw if necessary and straw can be fed with brassicas or silage to help balance the diet.

If snow has broken kale or rape off at ground level, then these crops will need to be fed before they rot.If they are just bent, they will keep growing. Bulb crops typically won’t be affected by snow and fodder beet is particularly valuable as stock can get back onto it quicker than other crops.

Cattle can also dig into snow to uncover the bulbs.

If oat crops are flattened, they should be fed as soon as possible. Oats will rot and go slimy within a couple of weeks. Freezing bursts the cell walls increasing the rate of deterioration.

As crops emerge from snow, long, narrow breaks shifted two-to three times a day will improve feed utilisation.

Le Miere says cattle will utilise the crop more efficiently when breaks are long and narrow and back fencing will help miminise pugging damage and reduce the risk of run-off.

Where tapes and live strands go down under the weight of snow, waratahs and wires can be used as temporary measure to break feed crops.

Ideally supplementary feed should have been placed in the paddock before the paddock was grazed. This helps limit stock movement and heavy vehicles on wet soils, both of which can damage the crop and soil.

Buffer zones should have been set up around waterways (at least 5 metres between the waterway and the crop) and critical source areas in the paddock before grazing.

Critical Source Areas (CSAs) are areas where surface runoff accumulates and can transport disproportionate amounts of sediment, nutrients and faecal matter into waterways.

Portable water troughs can be useful for reducing soil damage and keeping stock away from critical source areas.

Where crops are on a slope, it is recommended that where practicable, break fences are placed across the slope. This means that the standing crop will act as a filter for any run-off.

Find out more

For more information on the grazing of winter forage crops, see our: