Sandra Taylor

As farmers begin to transition livestock on to winter feed crops, they are being encouraged to consider the

environmental impacts of their wintering systems.

Beef + Lamb New Zealand’s general manager North Island Matt Ward says setting up feed paddocks in a way that protects soil, nutrient and water resources is good for business, animal welfare and the environment.

Making long and narrow breaks, placing supplementary feed in or near a dry part of the paddock where animals can go to sit down and cud, having portable troughs close to the crop face and fencing across the slope are all practical, low-cost management strategies farmers can adopt to help protect their resources.

Before animals begin grazing the crop, all waterways and Critical Source Areas (parts of the paddock that can channel overland flow directly to waterways) should be identified and animals excluded from them.

Matt says while the weather can be settled in early May, it can be hard to imagine what the paddock will be like after days of rain in mid-June, but farmers should have contingency plans – such as feedpads or run-off paddocks – that can be used in extreme weather.

Back-fencing is also a useful tool to prevent pugging and reduce the risk of run-off.

Grazing trials undertaken by AgResearch in South Otago (as part of the Pastoral21 programme) found strategic grazing could reduce phosphorus and sediment losses by 80-90%. This could save farmers $50-$60/ha/year.

Calculated over many farms within a catchment, this represents a significant reduction in catchment load and an increase in farm profitability and resilience.

Tips for winter grazing on crops

  • Exclude stock from waterways and create an ungrazed buffer zone between livestock and the waterway.
  • Leave an ungrazed buffer zone around Critical Source Areas (parts of the paddock that can channel overland

flow directly to waterways).

  • Graze paddocks strategically – on a sloping paddock, fence across the slope and start grazing at

the top of the paddock, so the standing crop acts as a filter and helps catch any sediment and nutrients.

  • Make breaks “long and narrow”.
  • Regularly back-fence to minimise pugging damage and runoff risk.
  • Place supplementary feed in or near a dry part of the paddock where animals can go to sit down and cud

and place portable troughs close to the crop face.

  • Provide adequate feed, shelter and clean, fresh drinking water for your stock.
  • When the soil is not so wet, graze the buffer strips around Critical Source Areas quickly and lightly.
  • Consider planting a catch crop, such as green-feed oats, to reducing nitrogen losses.
  • When choosing paddocks for next year’s winter feed crop, think about how you can improve your

management of CSAs and waterways.