In this Sustainable Farming Fund project, FAR has worked with 21 case study farms across the country to understand the risks associated with winter grazing.
A series of FAR workshops revealed that farmers have a good understanding about the environmental risks associated with winter grazing and the key focus of the workshops was to help farmers mitigate as much damage as is possible.
The project began with talking to farmers about their systems, how many cows they wintered, what they grazed them on, how they fed them and how much land they used. Basic soil quality testing comparing soils in grazed and non-grazed parts of the paddock, bulk density, penetrometer, aggregate stability and deep N (60cm) tests were performed.
Results were unsurprising and indicated the soil quality was worse and high levels of N were detected in the grazed areas compared with the non-grazed areas.
North Island arable farmers favoured more low intensity scenarios whereas South Island farmers were more focussed on gross margins, but were aware of the damage to their soils.
Environmental concerns were divided into soils (plugging, compaction, long-term structural damage, increased costs and yield losses) and nutrient load (N leaching, run-off with sediment and P loss).
Recommendations for managing grazing on saturated soils were developed;
Shift cows more than once a day
Increase the amount of supplement feed
Use back fencing and portable water troughs
Split the herd
Lift root vegetables e.g. fodder beet and swede
Stand-off on a paddock or pad
A risk assessment framework to help farmers assess the environmental impacts of intensive winter grazing on nutrient losses and degradation of the soils on their farms has now been developed from the information gained in this project.
For more information, see page 16 of the publication below: