5 Mar 2014

Weather forces farmers to dry off cows

7:51 am on 5 March 2014

Drought-like conditions in some northern areas are forcing farmers to dry off their cows and stop milking early, the national dairy industry organisation says.

The latest figures from Dairy New Zealand show milk production across the country is running 6 percent ahead of last year, when widespread drought conditions were in force. The production increase is even higher in Bay of Plenty, up 9 percent.

But the gains have been a lot lower in some regions, including Waikato and western areas of Northland, where the lack of rainfall is worrying farmers.

Dairy NZ regional team leader Craig McBeth said some Northland farmers were drying off their cows already.

"Certainly those farms that are split calving in Northland, where they've got a fresh herd of cows about to start calving at the end of this month, will be dry now to reserve their feed for the new calving herd," Mr McBeth said.

"But in other areas, where the drought has had quite an impact, they will have been drying cows off."

Farmers in dry areas with parched pastures were also having to buy extra feed to continue milking.

Mr McBeth said Fonterra's increased forecast milk payout would give farmers more scope to do that but that using supplementary feed to keep milking could be a gamble.

"The value of supplements can be very high if it allows cows to continue milking through until when it rains and the grass to grow again," he said.

"If, on the other hand, farmers are feeding supplements purely to produce milk, and there is no timely rain come along to boost the grass growth, then the cost of the supplement can be relatively high relative to the milk that gets produced from it."

The season had been productive despite the dry weather, Mr McBeth said.