Planning for the worst of winter

// Feed Planning and Strategies

With the arrival of winter, farmers, especially those in snow-prone areas, are being encouraged to prepare adverse weather plans which can be implemented if the weather turns bad.

herd of sheep in NZ

Will Halliday, Beef + Lamb New Zealand’s Senior Advisor Animal Welfare and Biosecurity, recommends that farmers consider how they will deal with heavy snow falls or prolonged periods of wet weather and put together an action plan.

He says factors such as electricity (availability of back-up generators) and water supplies, supplementary feed, access, shelter, stand-off areas and priority stock classes should all be considered when putting a plan together.

“Having a plan takes the stress out of decision-making during adverse events and ensures the whole farm team knows what is required.”

Ideally, farmers in snow-prone areas should have two to three weeks’ worth of supplements on hand in case of heavy snow. This supplement could make up 100 percent of an animal’s diet.

Feeding supplements to young stock early in winter will get them used to the feed if it is needed during an adverse weather event.

 Will says if snow is forecast, feed up to 50 percent more before it snows as stock typically eat more before a storm and less during it.

The initial requirement of stock is to keep warm, so where possible, they should be offered 20 percent above their maintenance requirements.


Will says water needs to be available to stock for at least six hours per day, particularly if they are being fed large volumes of dry supplement.

“Stock will die of dehydration well before they die of malnutrition, so it is important to use a generator for the water pump if the power is off or move stock so they can access water.”

Ice on troughs needs to be broken and removed to stop re-freezing and water races checked to ensure stock have access to clean water.

Forage crops

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

If snow has broken kale and 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.

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.

Supplementary feed

To minimise wastage when feeding grain or nuts, Will suggests feeding out on top of silage, against fence lines, under a back-fence electric wire or on frosted ground.

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

Once transitioned onto grain, which should be done gradually starting with 50g/ewe and building by 50g/head/week, ewes can be fed up to 300g/head/day.

“Watch for signs of grain overload or acidosis which include grey scour. If this occurs immediately drop back the quantity of grain being fed.”


 For more information about preparing for adverse weather go to:

FAR factsheet: feeding grain to sheep (PDF, 205KB)