‘Feed budget geek’ set for winter

Back in April, when he could see his winter feed was going to be tight, Mahinerangi farmer Dave Vaughan started making decisions to keep his stock in good condition through the winter and into lambing time. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Back in April, when he could see his winter feed was going to be tight, Mahinerangi farmer Dave Vaughan started making decisions to keep his stock in good condition through the winter and into lambing time. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
As warm autumn days made way for winter, very little rain fell around much of Otago and Southland, and now the realisation of poor winter crops is here.

Dave Vaughan laughs when he hears that his wife, Hayley, referred to him as a “feed budget geek”, and he accepts he most probably is. But it has served him well as he looks down the barrel of the winter, confident they have the feed to see their stock through, whatever comes at them.

The couple have been equity farming for two years on Hillcroft, a 590ha sheep and beef farm at Mahinerangi, inland from Outram and sitting at 400m to 500m above sea level. Before that, Mr Vaughan spent 15 years managing Landcorp farms — half at Hindon and half at Waipori, “just over the lake”. This year, they put 3300 ewes and 1070 hoggets to the ram.

One thing that could be guaranteed, MrVaughan said, was the winters.

“We are on what you would probably call a snow belt. If there’s snow in the forecast we’re likely to get it. I don’t tend to factor in a mild winter to the feed budgeting — winter is usually always very consistent.”

Mr Vaughan made some critical decisions early on.

“I assessed the crops and pasture cover at the end of March and I could tell it was going to be tight. So I lightened the load with stock numbers. We offloaded the last of the lambs at the start of April, got rid of the cull ewes and another 150 capital breeding ewes. And I didn’t buy any weaner calves which I had been planning to do.”

The top condition ewes got a bit of a check too, which helped set the farm up for reasonable pasture cover going into winter.

Mr Vaughan also weighed his crops in May.

“It was back by about 20% to 30%. Webudget on needing about nine to 10 tonne and we were looking at only having about seven and a-half, so I bought in an extra 170 bales of baleage.”

The early call meant he did not pay top dollar.

“We paid an average of about $80 to $85 per bale plus cartage. Which per kilogram of dry matter is still pretty expensive but it is also peace of mind.”

Last week’s snow was “over the top of the gumboots” but it was business as usual.

“It’s good to get winter in winter, if that makes sense. Lambing time is adifferent story.”

The harsh winters are also the reason why Mr Vaughan chooses not to pre-lamb shear anymore, opting to shear in March instead.

“A few years ago, I had ewes that had come off shears and we had a shocking few days of rain. I lost seven and it was enough to make me decide that it wasn’t for me anymore.”

While Mr Vaughan is the one to do the feed budget number crunching, the routine of shifting daily break fences is now here and it is a team effort, with Mrs Vaughan there each day to help get the job done.

“She has her mobs which she looks after. We chip away each day and it all gets done.”

- Alice Scott

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