Item for Smallfarmer feature

February is the hottest month of the year, and while the warm weather is lovely for holidays and days at the beach, it can be hard on the animals on your lifestyle block. The grass stops growing due to lack of water, and the quality of the grass is also lower as it goes to seed.

There are two ways to deal with the situation: either provide extra food, or reduce the number of animals you have to eat the available food. If the grass is eaten down very short, the soil dries out even faster, weed seeds can become established, the soil is more prone to erosion and the grass takes much longer to regrow when it does rain. Extra feed can be supplied as concentrates (grain) or as hay, haylage or silage. To repeat myself from a previous month, December to February is haymaking time, and you can look out for adverts in the “Grazing” column of the Daily News. Hay is made in “conventional” bales, or in large rounds or large squares, equivalent to 10 to 15 conventional bales. Unless you have a tractor with front end loader, go for the conventional bales, as you will be able to move these around by hand. Newly made hay smells “sweet”, with no musty odour, dust or black patches, and preferably without weeds. Most years you will need to feed hay for around 90 days of winter, and you will need quarter of a bale per cow per day, or half a bale per large horse per day. Sheep, goats and alpacas will need about one bale per 20 animals per day. Grain is usually fed as pellets, available from stock and station agents eg Allied Farmers, and from PCL Feeds. It is important not to feed chicken feeds, or any foods containing meat meal, to grazing animals. This is to avoid any risk of New Zealand cattle developing “mad cow disease” as they did in the UK and elsewhere. When feeding pellets, the wastage will be much less if feeding containers are used. These can be purchased or simply made from timber. See photo for an example. It is vital to begin feeding pellets slowly, with a very small amount to start (say 100gms per sheep or goat and 250gms per cow) and work up to a larger amount over 2 weeks or so. This is because of the complexities of the ruminant digestive system, which cannot suddenly deal with a large amount of carbohydrate. Do not put out enough for all the animals and go away, as one or two may come and eat it all, making themselves sick, while the others get nothing!

To reduce the number of animals eating the available food, you can sell, give away or eat the surplus ones! Horses are usually sold privately or by advertisement. For other livestock you can advertise, or contact a stock agent (see Allied Farmers advert in yellow pages). Animals can be sold “store” (to another farm where they will be kept to fatten or for breeding later) or “fat” (ready to be used for meat). Stock agents have a wealth of knowledge about local buying and selling options, but you will need to be flexible if you have small numbers to sell.

If you want to eat home grown meat, then you should contact a farm kill operator. They are also listed in the yellow pages, but I can recommend Glen Stewart ph 7695 780. The farm kill operator will come to your place, humanely kill the sheep, pig or cow, and take it away for processing. You will need (as always!!) a suitable pen or yards to confine the animal/s beforehand. Meat processed in this way can not be sold to others, only used by the person who owned the animal and was responsible for its care for at least 1 month prior to slaughter. There are large fines applicable to those caught selling home killed meat products, under the Animal Products Act.

It is a sad fact that not all the animals produced on a small farm can be kept for the duration of their lives. For the welfare of all the animals, the hard decision to sell or butcher some of them must be made. Farming is not always beer and skittles! Lastly, a brief word about animal handling. Farm animals (unlike humans!) can be relied upon to behave in a predictable manner. They will always be easier to handle in groups, so if you need to get in one sheep with flystrike for example, get 2 or 3 into the pen together. Horses are generally used to human contact, but many sheep, cattle and pigs are not, and find it very frightening. They then rush about madly and things tend to get broken. And before you curse them as stupid, think of what happens to a crowd of people if someone shouts ‘fire’?! Sheep and goats can be physically restrained if needed, but cattle and pigs can not. A yard is essential. When you do have to handle your animals, try to be as calm and as gentle as practical. Then next time things will go easier. You can try feeding the animals in the pen area, so that when you need to catch them they will run in happily.