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Tuesday, 01 September 2009 16:26

Farming Diary for September

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September farming diaryKate Diary September 2013



The lack of rain in July and early August caused panic in many areas, as memories of last year's drought are still fresh. Many folk were concerned that replenishing water tables would be delayed for the 'spring flush' to occur on time, which is very dependent on winter rains. A dry winter is always welcome, but plenty of rain is essential to boost spring pasture to plan conservation in spring.


If a spring flush doesn't arrive, a major reason is wintering too many stock so there's no good feed for lambing, kidding and calving. Winter is the time to check if the farm stocking rate is about right. If it's too high you'll need plenty of good quality supplements (made on farm or purchased). This means mainly silage, as you can't make good hay from the first surplus spring pasture. If stocking rate is too low, you'll have to make silage (and not hay) from the surplus.


Silage of course is not user-friendly for many reasons which need thinking about, and you'll need to decide what you are going to do. Do you want to make silage or buy what you need when you need it? Contractors with today's big gear don't like small paddocks and prefer to wrap silage in big round bales. These weigh around 600kg so need big gear to move them around.


They can be a nightmare to cut into small feeds, and if dumped in one spot for feeding, you get a large burn mark and mud around them. And some rural neighbours don't even like the smell of a nice acetic acid fermentation!


If you can get them, small square wrapped bales are still heavy to lift for one person. And even with plenty of wrap on silage bales, rats and birds, and stock chewing them can cause damage and let air in to cause mould, so it's a constant job checking for holes and tears. It's not a good idea to keep wrapped bales beyond a second season. And any silage that has visible mould should be used for compost and never fed to stock.


The other main reason for an absent spring flush is low soil fertility, and spring is too late to realise that you should have got the fertiliser on in autumn. Using Nitrogen is always promoted to provide a pasture boost, but it won't last for long if the basic N, P, and K are deficient. And also, with the increasing concern over environmental damage, farmers are going to have to be much more careful where fertiliser is spread, and to have waterways fenced off from stock and planted as riparian areas. There's a mass of information now available on this from regional and district councils.


It's a good time to check what is actually growing in your pastures, and a very useful, but now out of print, book is 'What grass is that' by L.C Lambrechtsen. It's an old Government Printer publication so should still be public libraries.


Look for ryegrass with its shiny underside of the leaf, prominent vein down the back and pink membrane around the root after you've pulled the dead cover off. That's the grass you want.


Cocksfoot grows in large coarse-leaved clumps and they'll just keep on getting bigger of not grazed hard or mown off. Hairy Yorkshire fog is easy to indentify and has low nutritional value although stock eat it with relish.


You won't see Browntop in the first spring growth as it's a low fertility grass and unless it's grazed hard it forms a springy mat. Fertiliser applications will get rid of it. It's used as a lawn grass where low growth is required. If you farm in a warm Kikuyu area, you'll have your work cut out to stop it choking out everything else. You'll need a long-term programme to try to get rid of it.


Clover. It's your free nitrogen provider as well as producing highly nutritious feed. That's why the target in a pasture should be 70% grass and 30% clover. Clover plants need light and are easily shaded out by long overgrown pasture plants. Healthy clover wont' grown on low fertility soils – so again, fix the soil fertility status.


Weeds love spring, especially thistles and ragwort, so learn to identify them correctly and get advice on what should be done in the young leaf stage. Don't leave them till they have built up massive root reserves and have seeded in mid summer to spread around the district like so many folk do.


Running out of feed is a regular event in spring, and it can be very expensive if cash for emergencies is not in the budget. Crisis supplementary feed when short is usually at crazy prices. It's in the 'second grazing round' where trouble strikes. Spring saved pasture that reaches the top of short gumboots, is in excess of 4000kg DM/ha and you think this feed will never run out – but it can when the rains don't come and it's grazed to soil level.


If regrowth is slow, there's always a long list of reasons (or excuses), the main one being the weather - the cold wind, the lack of sun, the wet ground! It's really poor management in letting the pasture get too long. The biggest sin is to graze too low and not leave enough 'residual' pasture to generate the regrowth. This residual should be at least 1100kg DM/ha or 50mm long. Cattle can't eat below this level. Sheep can and horses.


Thankfully the drier-than-average winter in many areas has avoided pasture damage from pugging, but don't get complacent when it does rain as soils could still be damaged. We need more stand-off pads if the environment has to be protected, and there would not be anyone who has built one in recent years, who will have regretted the move. Farmers with pads all say they can sleep better at nights knowing that both stock and pastures are safe.


It's important to remember that spring pasture is not by any means a 'balanced feed'. It's low Dry Matter, massively high protein which is not compensated by the carbohydrate (sugar) levels, and it's extremely low in fibre which is important for good rumen digestion. Some farmers are now measuring sugar content as is used in horticulture with the Brix reading. So much of what goes into the front end of a ruminant in spring comes out the other end and is wasted, especially protein as urea which is the big nasty of environmental degradation.



The bulk of lambing should be over in the North Island and early lambs docked and those on the higher ground of the South Island waiting to start. Too many lambs have their tails docked too short. Shearers would prefer no tail at all, but the tail dock should cover the vulva of a ewe lamb, and the equivalent in the male. This allows lambs to 'wag' their tails when passing faeces and keeps them cleaner.


See the Sheep Code of Welfare available on the MAF website. Some farmers are claiming growth benefits from not docking, especially for lambs to be sold before Christmas.


Meat companies are currently talking up the price of lambs for next season – after the disaster of last season when many farmers gave their lambs away. So it's going to be important to look after every lamb.


Docking is a good time to check flock performance. There are many ways to work out a 'lambing percentage' some of which fudge important issues like how many dry/dry (barren), and wet/dry ewes (lambed and lost lambs), there were. These poor-performing sheep must be included in the reckoning.


The best figure is 'lambs docked/100 ewes to the ram'. It should be well over 120% these days regardless of the breed of sheep. If it's not, then check where the wastage occurred, and find out how to fix the problems for next season. Ewes that didn't rear a lamb up to weaning need to be culled.


The flock vaccination programme should have been sorted out with your vet before lambing by vaccinating the ewes, but if this was missed, double-check that lambs are covered for pulpy kidney and tetanus. Pulpy kidney always seems to kill the biggest lambs once they start to eat lush spring pasture – so an extra vaccination shot would be a wise move. Also check with your vet about mineral levels and salt.


Every year people report the sudden death of massive big lambs. It's not a clostridial disease where they blow up on death – they just seem to have quietly slept away in the paddock with no sign of any stress. Selenium can be involved with this 'sudden death syndrome' so it's worth checking with your vet about what are the most likely deficiencies on your soil type.


There's always intense advertising pressure for farmers to drench stock, accompanied by attractive freebees. Don't drench lambs at docking, as they don't need it. Only start considering drenching lambs at weaning if they need it. And mature ewes should not need drenching. If ewes are really skinny, the problem is more likely to be lack of feed prior to lambing. Don't drench any sheep before you have some definitive evidence from a Faecal Egg Count (FEC). And even with high egg counts of above 500 eggs/g of faeces (epg), if the animals are thriving and not looking 'wormy' or anaemic, then save your time and money. Five hundred epg is the level vets use to recommend drenching.


Heavy-milking ewes need the best feed on the farm, especially those suckling multiples. Farmers with high-fertility flocks now run triplets with the twins, rather than on their own or with singles. There's a greater chance of a stray triplet sneaking a feed in the melee of many lambs sucking and confused mothers, that with a ewe with a single as she's never in any doubt about the identity of her lamb.


Dag all dirty ewes, as when it warms up and even before that, the Aussie green blowfly will be around. When you yard sheep, dirty ewes can spread their dags to lambs and they can get struck too.


Remember lactating ewes and growing lambs need plenty of good clean water, and cover troughs with mesh or put some large rocks in them to prevent lambs drowning as they race around. Book the shearer to get the wool off hoggets in the next few weeks. And don't expect to make a fortune from it despite the continuing press hype that things are going to improve. They don't!



Calving on dairy farms is well through in the North Island, and there's an increased supply of dairy beef calves coming through so prices should have eased. Never pay silly prices for calves, as there's no profit in them. See our website for information for first-time calf rearers, advising folk not to start with too many, and to buy them in one batch from a single farm and not in the saleyards.


Saleyard operators deny of course, that diseases are readily spread at feeder calf sales, but apart from that risk, two transport trips in a day in crowded conditions, being shaken about and stressed should be avoided where possible.


And never buy small calves because they are cheap - as you'll have them far too long and they'll never grow into profit. They should do at least 1kg/day when on milk, meal and hay. There is a mass of information on calf rearing put out each spring, much of it from commercial sources pushing their own products.


The most important thing before you start calf rearing is to do some honest costing – which includes your labour. If you want to rear calves to run for older beef, it's cheaper to buy dairy weaners on a cents/kg liveweight basis, and let someone else do all the work for very little profit.


All calves need to be dehorned (or disbudded) before six weeks old using the hot cauterising iron. Don't use caustic paste, as the finished job is unpredictable and can keep on spreading and burning, often making a messy end result. But age of dehorning depends on the size of the horn bud, as some Holstein Friesians will have large buds at birth and can be dehorned very early. Small Jerseys will need to be left much longer


Vet clinics are now advising using an anesthetic around the horn bud and also to give the calf a general shot to reduce stress. Some are saying this is a requirement under the law, but it's not. Private contractors will use anaesthetic and some (without veterinary approval) will not. So ask them before booking. Under the Painful Procedures Welfare Code, pain must be reduced wherever possible, so using anaesthesia must be the best way to go.


If you buy dairy weaners in the saleyards, check they have been properly dehorned or it will mean more expense later (after 9 months) when a veterinarian will have to do the job with full anaesthetic.


Calves sucking cows should be growing well. Keep their mothers on good feed with good quality supplements if feed gets short. Expect cows that are multiple suckling calves to be slow coming on heat. Some try removing the calves for 24 hours to see if it triggers an oestrus but it's not a reliable trick.


Pay special attention to any rising yearlings going to the bull in October. They should be approaching their target weights (see our website) and showing plenty of oestrus activity. Watch the neighbour's bull, and put an extra hot wire on the boundary fence anticipating his arrival.
It's time to sort out what bulls you will need, and where to get them.


A big concern with well-grown dairy calves of Holstein Friesian origin is that they will come on heat at that young age, and if there's a bull around, he won't refuse the opportunity. If rising yearlings get pregnant they must be aborted as early as possible, which is a job for the vet. Never let them calve, as they'll never grow into decent animals later in life.


Remember the venereal health risks from leasing bulls, so check with your vet what tests are needed and that the bull supplier can provide a certificate to prove they have had all the appropriate tests. If you intend using AI on the herd, then contact your AI service provider now.


Check our website on the important points of an AI programme and how to keep your AI technician happy. It's very important. The key thing for a successful AI programme is to be able to recognise heat behaviour of the cow and to know when to inseminate. Cows ovulate after their oestrus, so the ideal time to inseminate is when they have just gone off standing heat.


Stock must have a good supply of good quality water - and keep the troughs clean all year around. A mature cow drinks 70 litres a day!


Stock of all ages will scour in the spring – mainly because of the large amounts of water in the pasture, which goes through the animal. Spring is also the time when worm larvae hatch (called the spring rise) and crawl up the wet pasture to be eaten to re-infect the animal and start the cycle again. A heavy parasite load can cause scouring, but don' treat any cattle for worms before talking to your vet, where a decision to drench or pouron. The excess use of pourons has caused a major drench resistance problem with Cooperia worm species.



  • Check your financial budget for unexpected expenses in winter.
  • Update your financial records and pay your accounts regularly.
  • Farms are dangerous work sites and not recreational areas. We've got animals, chemicals and machinery, which are all potential hazards. So make sure you have a hazard policy – for both your family and visitors to your property. OSH may want to see it if there are problems.
  • There will be kids around the farm at lambing and calving and they'll want to play in sheds where there are scores of things that can fall down. Green buttons on machines are just asking to be pressed!
  • Get rid of all old chemical containers, and make sure there's a clearly written name on the outside of all container to show what's inside.
  • Criminals are busy too in spring, and lambs and calves are so easy to steal. Record any suspicious activity you see on the website . It's an online map designed for farmers to anonymously report and track suspected stock theft.



Dr Clive Dalton

Clive did a Ph.D. in sheep breeding at the University of North Wales at Bangor. After lecturing at Leeds University, he came to New Zealand to do research with MAF. Because of his communication skills, he moved to the Ruakura Agricultural Research Centre to be fully involved in interpreting science for practical application by farmers.

After 14 years he moved to teach at the Waikato Polytechnic where he taught young future farmers. He won the 1993 Landcorp Communicator of the Year award and the 1999 Sir Arthur Ward award for agricultural communication.