Hill country still feeling drought pain

JILL GALLOWAY
Last updated 11:29 25/06/2013

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The impact of the drought is not over for hill country farmers, even though there has been rain.

Many do not have enough grass for wintering in-lamb ewes and in-calf cows and they should be doing feed budgets to determine how many stock they can feed, farm adviser Roy Fraser said.

He was talking to about 30 farmers, and a handful of rural bankers at a seminar in northern Manawatu on "Dealing with what the drought has left - practical information to help salvage the spring".

Veterinarians said the success of lambing and calving depended on feeding the animals throughout their pregnancy and it was farm management, not the weather, that determined the number of lambs and calves that survived.

"Feeding and condition scoring ewes and cows is the best thing a farmer could do," Totally Vets Feilding-based veterinarian Trevor Cook said.

Skinnier ewes with multiple lambs often meant lambs were unable to stand up and suckle within 20 minutes, cutting their survival chances.

The number of lambs docked and able to be sold was often the difference between a farm making a profit or loss, banker Brian Henderson said.

Fraser said dairy farmers were adept at doing feed budgets, but many sheep and beef farmers had more classes of stock and did not look ahead to what they had on hand.

A feed budget meant they needed to factor in how fast pasture would grow in winter and feed covers needed for ewes before and after lambing.

"It would take a mindshift for many sheep and beef farmers to do a feed budget.

"Dairy farmers grow up doing it. Feed budgeting should be standard practice on sheep and beef farms. "

The amount of feed in the hills of Manawatu and Rangitikei was variable.

"From country that looked pretty good, down to country that had only 1000 kilograms of dry matter per hectare [shortgrass]. I guess the difference will be the way farmers have managed."

Flatter land could capture early rain, even though there was not much, and as a result it had better pasture.

"That meant that they got themselves out of a tight situation much quicker than the lower- fertility hill country."

Fraser said the hill country did not get enough rain in the warmer weather, when pastures were better able to grow.

He expected breeding properties to have more trading stock (fattening lambs and cattle) which they could get rid of more easily in times of weather stress. "It's harder getting rid of breeding stock . . . They are more likely to buy in feed, or graze some stock off the farm."

The earlier a farmer made a decision, the more flexibility they had when situations were extreme.

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The most cost was borne by farmers in the season after a drought. The loss of breeding stock would be felt for several seasons.

- Waikato Times

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