A Southland farmer believes careful planning is the key to mitigating potential risks of grazing livestock on fodder crops during the winter.
WGAG chair Lindsay Burton said the group was keen to emphasise the need for grazing contracts for livestock when grazed off farm to make sure health, nutrition and welfare needs are understood and managed, especially during periods of greater risk like winter.
"With a clear plan in place and a contract to back it up, the issues that come up with grazing and the welfare of livestock through the winter are just that much easier to manage," Burton said.
"Where animals are intensively managed within the farm operation, the same detailed requirements must be present in the farm management plan."
A guide to help farmers with wintering practices is available on the Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) website, and outlines seven key short-term outcomes:
- ensuring animals give birth in the right environment;
- being prepared for all weather conditions
- making sure animals can easily access acceptable drinking water;
- planning for successful winter feeding;
- providing animals with a comfortable lying down place;
- working together to care for animals during winter, and
- finding opportunities to improve.
"Factoring that kind of thinking into a grazing contract goes a long way towards ensuring animal health and welfare are properly looked after," says Burton.
"Many farmers have already been proactive in making changes to their wintering systems and the hope is that by having written contracts or farm plans in place, that momentum can continue."
Milton Munro, technical team manager for PGG Wrightson and member of the action group, echoes these sentiments.
"Caring for stock during winter is really important, which is why PGG Wrightson has updated our winter grazing contracts so that the key outcomes identified by the Action Group will be met," he says.
"Our livestock staff who assist farmers with finding off-farm grazing are stressing the importance of good communication between both parties early on, along with the importance of planning for changing weather conditions, when required, to ensure all stock are well cared for and a plan is in place for any animals that need extra attention."
The group was set up by Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor last year in response to a report from the Winter Grazing Taskforce, which made 11 recommendations to help ensure that animal welfare became a key part of all winter grazing decisions in the pastoral supply chain.
He said the action group's job was to recommend ways to improve animal welfare following what he called, "a lot of concern about managing winter grazing for cattle, sheep, and deer across the country".
The group's 15 members represent industry organisations, government, vets, farmers, and other rural professionals.
It is supported in its work by MPI.