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Managing the summer rain/autumn break

January/February 2019

Helen Smith, Agriculture Advisor

With a pretty tough 2018 now behind us, many people in the region have been very happy with summer storm activity over the Christmas and New Year holidays.

Summer storms are very patchy in nature; one property will receive an inch when the nearest weather station records one millimetre. This means that some areas are doing better than others.

The storms have provided useful green grass and filled  dams for many people in the region, but the issues of livestock feed and livestock water – both quantity and quality – are looming for some, with little ‘run-off’ rainfall in some areas.

Given the lack of rainfall and false autumn break of 2018, many are wondering how 2019 will pan out and considering how they will respond to seasonal conditions.

Climate outlook:

The latest monthly and seasonal outlook for Autumn was released by the Bureau of Meteorology on January 31.

The outlook indicates that across the region there is an equal to likely chance of exceeding the median rainfall for the coming months of February and March. The accuracy of these predictions ranges from moderate to low. The models indicate that it is very likely that the average maximum and minimum temperatures for these months will be exceeded, especially March.

Pastures:

On the Tablelands, hot conditions in February may impact the current green pasture on offer. Livestock managers should consider what to do with dry standing feed, which may involve supplementing certain livestock classes. Protein supplements may be useful for lactating cows if there is abundant standing feed, but in other situations grain and/or hay may be required. Energy is the main requirement when feeding dry adult stock, whereas young stock need a good supply of both energy and protein.

With warm, wet conditions summer grasses will continue to provide green pasture during February. Paspalum and kikuyu on the coast, and native species - particularly red grass and kangaroo grass - will be valuable for grazing in these conditions. Where pasture quantity is limited, green pick will be valuable, particularly for sheep, reducing the amount of supplementary feed required.

Good conditions on the coast have allowed significant fodder conservation activities, particularly on dairies trying to replace exhausted home-grown feed reserves, but there is caution about the year ahead. Similarly to the situation with surface dams, low creek and river flows point to a difficult autumn irrigation season if good, widespread rain doesn’t continue and help out in some areas, and soil moisture at depth declines.

If we do get a dry spell, maintaining ground cover is important. In addition to reducing stock numbers,  setting up a drought lot or sacrifice paddock(s) can help manage this risk and protect pastures and soil.

March rainfall will be critical for autumn pasture growth and determining how much feed will be carried in to winter. Check the Bureau’s forecasts throughout February and then monitor the rainfall at your place. Median or ‘typical’ rainfall for March is 30-40mL for the Southern Tablelands (varies with location).

Livestock:

Preg testing breeding cows 6 weeks after bull removal will help with starting to consider which animals to sell first if the year gets tough. Considering the low body condition of many cows at the start of joining, it will be important to check pregnancy rates. Empty, non-pregnant, cows should be identified and sold at the earliest opportunity. Late calvers should also be identified -  these can be sold if it looks like a late break and pasture availability will be tight going into winter.

Local Land Services support:

Local Land Services will be monitoring conditions during Autumn, and targeted activities will be delivered as the season progresses.

Prograze training courses are planned to start in Autumn 2019 in the Braidwood/Bungendore, Cooma, Goulburn and Yass areas. This course is very useful in monitoring pasture quantity and quality, and managing grazing and livestock feeding for both sustainable and profitable outcomes, including pasture budgeting and managing difficult seasons. The course runs over 8 workshops, generally held 4 - 6 weeks apart, and is hands-on, conducted on group member’s farms with on-paddock activities. Please contact your local office if you are interested in participating.

You can also contact your local agriculture advisor for information on feeding and managing livestock.

Other Government support:

There are also many useful resources on managing livestock on the NSW Department of Primary Industries Drought Hub. This includes various other support services and financial assistance available from the NSW Government,  including a number of loans and rebates. If you are enjoying some reprieve with summer storms, this may be a good time to investigate these options.