As we enter into the beginnings of New Zealand’s cooler months, it is essential to address the practice of winter grazing and what you can do to improve the health of your animals and your pastures during the grueling winter conditions and navigate your livestock into a healthy and thriving spring.

Grazing your livestock throughout the winter can pose many challenges and risks to both your animals and your land. Prepare yourself, your pastures and your livestock for the increased extreme elements of winter for a successful winter grazing season.

At SmartShelters we have an enviable reputation for our custom built, top quality and reliable livestock shelters to enable your animals to thrive during the winter months. Our shelters earn you greater control over the feeding, milking and management of your flock as well as keeping them protected from the elements, keeping them warmer and healthier while increasing milk yields.

What is Winter Grazing?

Winter grazing is the practice where ruminants such as cattle, sheep and goats continue to graze on paddocks during the winter months. If it is not carried out effectively, it can have detrimental effects on water quality, animal health and pasture regrowth. Once snow cover interrupts or prevents access to grazing supplements for protein such as hay bales are provided in the pastures.

Although many of our livestock are resilient creatures, they use a lot of extra energy to survive out in the pastures during winter. While winter grazing is a common practice among many experienced farmers, it does pose many challenges and risks to both the environment and the animals.

What Does an Effective Wintering System Look like?

Winter should not put an end to your grazing rotation. These are the ultimate goals to aim for to execute an effective winter grazing system. An effective wintering system should:

  • Support optimal animal health and welfare
  • Minimise soil and nutrient loss to the environment
  • Comply with regional council regulations regarding wintering systems
  • Protect valuable topsoil
  • Complement the overall farm system and the work of your team
  • Have a contingency plan for periods of extreme weather conditions

What impacts can mud have on the welfare of grazing livestock?

Unfortunately, mud is inevitable when you mix wet conditions and low grass growth with livestock grazing and living in muddy conditions can have detrimental effects on our livestock. The animals will have to exert extra energy when grazing through mud, it is not only strenuous to walk through, it also sticks to their hair coat and reduces their ability to regulate their body temperature.

This creates a catch 22, whereby our livestock will need to consume more to produce that extra energy, but generally will eat less due to the effort required to navigate the field to reach feed and water in the muddy conditions. This results in declines in herd growth and performance.

Mud and Lameness

Likewise, mud can have serious implications to livestock health as it is among the predisposing causes for lameness in animals. Wet grounds decrease hoof hardness and increase the incidence of claw lesions.

Pathogens also thrive in these conditions and create heightened exposure to young livestock both directly through their environment and indirectly through nursing from contaminated udders.

Mud is an undesirable condition for animal performance, animal health, resource management and environmental perspective and must be prevented at all costs in farm environments.

Does Winter Grazing Destroy Pasture?

Winter precipitation, whether it’s rain, sleet or snow, mixed with a lack of grass growth during the winter months not only leads to muddy conditions creating issues for herd health, it can also cause damaging pasture erosion, run-off into waterways and hinder the regrowth of the pastures come springtime.

Pasture management

There are numerous solutions to help maintain your pastures during the winter months:

SmartShelters – Investing in a SmartShelter for your livestock not only provides a warm, comfortable and safe environment for your animals, it also increases production, makes herd management easier and encourages your pastures to thrive.

Sacrifice paddock – You can identify an area to sacrifice to livestock grazing so that the rest of your pastures have time to rejuvenate.

Wintering Checklist

Considering and implementing the following steps can lead to a successful winter grazing season:

  • Consider a selection of different pastures and sacrifice paddocks to improve the effects of rotation grazing and give the rest of the land a chance to regrow and rejuvenate.
  • Rotate crops, such as adding oats to the pastures right after the livestock is removed to reduce the amount of muddy terrain and improve soil quality.
  • Create a buffer of between 5 and 20 metres from waterways to reduce run-off and contamination.
  • Introduce portable troughs and back fencing to redirect livestock energy from walking around the paddock and improving feed efficiency.
  • Invest in extra bailage to ensure livestock are fed sufficiently especially during the coldest months and snowfall.
  • Transition your livestock carefully, consider their shelter, ability to lie down and their access to water.
  • Develop an adverse weather plan for each grazing area to ensure animal welfare and environmental protection needs are met in extreme weather.
  • Make sure critical source areas are protected.

A solution to Winter Grazing

While livestock can be grazed in pastures into the winter months, it’s a lot safer, warmer and more productive to keep them in a purpose built SmartShelter.

Providing your animals with the right protection, particularly in often harsh and hostile New Zealand conditions, is best practice for many reasons. This is particularly the case for livestock bred for optimum dairy genetics, as the very DNA that allows them to produce such high yields tends to leave them susceptible to weather extremes, as they focus their energy on milk production rather than on hardiness. Decline in milk production due to cold stress has been proven to be of greater magnitude than that of heat stress.

What’s more, providing your property with a hub from which to maintain your herd will allow you to maximise your investment.

Composting barns for winter grazing

There’s a lot of conflicting views out there as to whether pasture grazing is better than confinement areas during the winter for livestock and in most traditional farm shelter designs there is significant evidence of health risks to your ruminants as well as extra costs for replacing bedding.

However, at SmartShelters we have the solution. Our composting barns are designed to improve herd health and productivity rather than compromise it while in the meantime saving you money. The use of our aerobic system of ‘good bugs’ compost any effluent, keeping the bedding dry and minimising the need to replace it to only once a year. In addition to this you can use the compost produced from the barn as a nutrient rich fertiliser for your pastures.

Livestock shelters for winter grazing

SmartShelters livestock barns are the ultimate solution to effective winter grazing. Once you are convinced that your pasture has given up growing, bring your livestock in from the fields. A custom built livestock barn will take the pressure off your pastures, decrease effluent run-off and significantly improve the environmental impact of your farm. Likewise, your animals will thank you and you can appreciate much higher performance levels due the comfort and happiness of your herd.

If you choose to invest in one of our composting barns you have the added benefit of nutrient rich fertiliser created from your animal effluent to supplement your pastures year round. Saving you on maintenance costs for both bedding for the animals and fertiliser for your paddocks.

Our livestock shelters are designed to keep your animals warm, safe and comfortable during the winter months and keep the stress off your pastures and give them the break they need to thrive during the next season.