Paddock selection for winter feed crops

Which paddocks will you be using for next year’s winter feed crops? To ensure the best environmental and animal welfare outcomes, B+LNZ has compiled a list of three critical factors to consider when selecting paddocks for growing winter feed crops.
Thursday, 4 October 2018
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#1 Steeper paddocks come with bigger risks
While flat paddocks are preferable for winter cropping, if steeper paddocks are being selected think carefully about 1) establishment methods, 2) how they will be grazed and 3) what animals will be grazing them. For example, if a paddock is too steep to get a tractor on, it might be too steep for wintering cattle. 
 
When sowing paddocks on sloping ground, try to have the crop rows going across the hill rather than top to bottom. These rows will act as mini buffers, catching soil when it travels down the hill. 
 
Further information:
Winter Forage Crops: Management Before Grazing (PDF, 2.04MB)
Ten Top Tips for Winter Grazing of Crops (PDF, 1.08MB)
Good management practice for winter grazing: Ross Monaghan (Podcast)
Strategic grazing of winter crops (Video)
Wintering cows on crops (Dairy NZ)
#2 Consider proximity to waterways, gullies and propensity to flood
Make sure winter feed crop paddocks are well away or buffered from waterways and wet areas of a paddock, to reduce the risk of top soil, phosphorus (P) and pathogens reaching water bodies. 
 
Identify Critical Source Areas (CSA) which are areas that are prone to surface run-off and contaminant-loss such as gullies and swales. CSAs should not be sprayed, cultivated, sown in crop or grazed. 
They should ideally be fenced off during grazing to reduce the risk of contaminating waterways. 
 
If you must grow winter feed crop in a paddock with a waterway, ensure there is at least a 5-metre uncropped buffer next to that waterway; the size of this buffer should increase with slope. 
 
Further information:
Stock Exclusion: Managing stock around waterways (PDF, 100KB)
Winter Forage Crops: Management Before Grazing (PDF, 2.04MB)
Ten Top Tips for Winter Grazing of Crops (PDF, 1.08MB)
Good management practice for winter grazing: Ross Monaghan (Podcast)
Strategic grazing of winter crops (Video)
#3 Soil type can impact productivity, nutrient loss and animal welfare
If you have light or stony soils, seek advice on using catch crops to capture nutrients.  Consider only grazing lighter classes of stock on heavy soils during winter. 
 
Heavy soils are at greater risk of pugging, compaction and structural damage.   If your soils are prone to pugging, consider leaving areas of the paddock in grass for animals to rest on. 
 
It is also important to consider your catchment-specific water quality issues when selecting paddocks for winter feed crops.  
  • In catchments where nitrogen is a problem, avoid growing crops on lighter soils where there can be increased risk of N-losses through leaching.
  • In catchments where phosphorus and sediment loss are the main issue focus on the proximity to waterways.
 
Damage to soils from poor grazing management or winter crops will impact on the future productivity of that paddock.  
 
Further information:
Best practice winter feeding cattle (video)
Profitable crop for cattle wintering (video)
Winter Forage Crops: Management Before Grazing (PDF, 2.04MB)
Ten Top Tips for Winter Grazing of Crops (PDF, 1.08MB)
Good management practice for winter grazing: Ross Monaghan (Podcast) 
Other factors to consider when selecting paddocks for winter forage crops
  • What class of stock will you be grazing in that paddock? Consider using high risk paddocks only for wintering sheep while lower risk paddocks can be used for cattle and deer. 
  • Consider the aspect – is the paddock north or south facing? South facing paddocks may be slower to dry out and therefore more prone to pugging. 
  • Think about catch-crop options. The quicker a follow-up crop is established after the feed crop has been grazed, the less chance of losing valuable nutrients. 
  • Animal welfare factors: Is there appropriate shelter and somewhere free of mud for livestock to lie down. 
  • Is there drinking water in the paddock, where are the troughs, are portable troughs required? 
  • Is the paddock easily accessed, even in winter? Ideally supplementary feed should be put into the paddock prior to grazing to reduce heavy traffic on wet soils. 
  • Consider biosecurity. Ensure your stock – particularly cattle – don’t have nose-to-nose contact with your neighbor's animals.