Southland farmers Maurice and Suzanne Hanning use a range of tactics to keep mud to a minimum in winter – from back fencing and portable troughs to even selecting smaller cows for their farm.
The couple have been dairy farming near Invercargill since 2011, when they converted the former sheep and beef farm which has been in Maurice’s family for close to 150 years.
They selected smaller Kiwi-cross cows for their herd to help protect the soils in their paddocks. “Instead of making the property suit the animal, we decided to pick animals that suited the property,” Suzanne says.
Like most in Southland, they winter cows on crop and this year will have some cows on fodder beet and others on swedes, as well as supplementing with hay, straw and baleage.
While there’s “always more than one way to skin a cat”, they focus on doing the “basics” well to prevent mud.
Simple things they do to mitigate mud include back fencing, using portable troughs, regularly moving the break fence and providing lots of supplement to ensure cows always have access to feed.
“We usually shift the cows twice a day and use a narrow feed face. If the weather is ratty and horrible, we’ll shift more frequently and top up with extra roughage if needed. We find when they’re well fed, they’re less likely to move up and down the break making more mud and wasting their energy looking for food and more inclined to lay down content and chew their cud.”
The couple also keep mobs small to around 120 to 150 cows. They spilt their mobs based on calving date, rather than body condition score, to make it easier for them to determine when they need to go back on to pasture to avoid cows calving on crop.
“We’re not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, we simply focus on good management practice,” Suzanne says.
She says mitigating mud is a win-win for everyone, the cows, the environment, staff and business.
“It’s easier for staff moving the break fence, you minimise feed waste and by limiting damage to your paddocks you’re able to cultivate them and get them back into grass quicker in the spring.”
While they don’t have a lot of critical source areas (CSA) on farm to manage, they do have a “web” of tile drains which flow to a CSA. The couple have fenced off the area and let the grass grow “rank” to help prevent sediment and phosphorous loss.
Suzanne says they have a range of different soils on farm, “you name it we have it”.
They avoid grazing “sensitive soil” types during winter and Suzanne says farmers should know their soil types to decide what crop and pasture to plant and when to graze or avoid grazing certain paddocks at various times of the year.
“Our cows are the ones who pay our wages. We put them here, it’s our responsibility to look after them.”
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Article supplied by DairyNZ