Winter grazing no-nos highlighted

Otago Regional Council rural liaison and support officer Nicole Foote shows photographs of winter grazing causing unacceptable runoff. Photo: Sally Brooker
Otago Regional Council rural liaison and support officer Nicole Foote shows photographs of winter grazing causing unacceptable runoff. Photo: Sally Brooker
North Otago farmers are urged to show their sector in a positive light during winter grazing.

At a North Otago Sustainable Land Management group workshop in Weston last week, attended by 64 people, speakers emphasised the increasing public criticism of farming.

Otago Regional Council rural liaison and support officer Nicole Foote said the council received a lot of calls from the public about farming practices seen from the roads. And on her way from Dunedin to speak at the workshop, she also saw ''obvious examples'' of what not to do.

Gross discharges from farmland to water were prohibited, but the council was still seeing them every year.

''It's a massive no-no.''

Some sort of barrier was needed to prevent disturbed land from entering water.

Stock access to waterways was also ''a big problem in Otago''. In winter, extra measures such as temporary fences might be needed.

Complaints were received every year about leachate from silage pits, Ms Foote said. Whether the pit was near a waterway or not, it must be on a non-permeable base and sealed.

Leachate must be captured, stored, and disposed of correctly. Rainwater diversion may be needed too.

Gateways and crossings could become problematic in paddocks grazed by either sheep or cattle.

Before choosing where to sow winter feed crops, farmers should ensure the paddock was fit for purpose. Areas prone to water pooling and flowing (called critical source areas) should be identified, and grazing should be in a strategic pattern that minimised the possibility of runoff or pollution from nutrients.

DairyNZ Otago environment specialist Hanna Stalker said research at Telford showed strategic winter crop grazing and careful management of critical source areas could reduce sediment and nutrient losses in surface runoff almost to the levels found on pasture grazed by sheep.

Catch crops were then the best way of taking up excess nutrients from the paddock. They have been trialled successfully across the South Island, she said.

Veterinary Centre Oamaru vet Mat O'Sullivan, speaking on cow welfare, said there was a lot of ''naive commentary'' on farming from people who did not understand it.

Along with an ''increasing disconnection between urban and rural New Zealand'', there was a growing number of tourists driving around expecting to see a clean,
green country.

Farmers should aim to show the nation and the world they were rearing healthy, productive stock, he said.

In bad winter weather, extra feed should be offered. Cows with low body condition score were less able to insulate themselves and would need good shelter, too. If nothing else was available, the crop face could be used as shelter, or straw bales could form a wind break.

Cows used extra energy to walk through mud, and lameness and mastitis could be more prevalent in muddy conditions.

''Don't leave drafting of springer cows until it's too late. The public won't tolerate cows calving on mud.''

Cows need room to lie down and rest for eight hours a day, Mr O'Sullivan said. Straw should be laid on muddy ground.

When paddocks were being sown, dry knobs and headlands could be left uncultivated as lying areas.

North Otago's minimal rain through autumn meant nitrates have accumulated in the soil, he said.

''There are lots of brassica crops out there that will be red hot. Make sure you test them before feeding.''


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