News & Advice

Summer dry – preparation is key, and it starts now

Oct 1, 2023 | Dairy, Farm systems

Katrina Roberts, Herd Health Veterinarian

Seasoned Waikato dairy farmers know how to prepare for a summer dry, so we don’t want to teach you how to suck eggs. However, we know you also have calves to wean, cows to mate, staff to manage, contractors to coordinate… and that’s just before lunch!

A predicted El Nino summer weather pattern could mean unpredictable weather this summer so preparation is key. You’ve read in the media the implications of an El Nino event – it may depend on whether you are optimistic, or pessimistic as to how you ‘read’ this news.


When preparing for possible drought, what needs to be considered?

Preparation is about analysing the long-term risks, taking steps to eliminate them if practical or attempting to reduce their impact if they can’t be avoided. In the case of drought, all farms are different but attempting to reduce its impact involves having supplementary feed available, ensuring your water supply will cope with the increased demand, mitigating the impact of heat stress and having appropriate stock numbers for the worst-case scenario.

If one of your possible strategies is to go once-a-day milking in summer, can your somatic cell count (SCC) allow this to occur when you need it to? 

If you haven’t already dropped to your lowest stocking rate (from the wet winter and spring), then early pregnancy testing and therefore early culling of poor performing, late calving/not-in-calf cows may be a good strategy.

Feed budgeting for summer requirements may require a change in approach – increasing area of crop grown at home (e.g., chicory or turnips), increasing supplement ordered (e.g., maize silage) or sourcing alternative supplements. With weather patterns predicted to be different to ‘normal’, combined with a moving payout, this is not the season to try a new crop. Stick with crops known to work on your farm with your soil types, your staff, and your animals. Choose proven paddocks and ensure that you get these crops established and well-developed before the summer dry, so they have the best chance of providing you with a reliable yield.

Jersey cows at the break fence for a winter feed of turnips, New Zealand


What crucial elements should I include in my summer farm management plan?

Going into the summer, it is crucial to have a plan with set cut-off dates, feed levels and body condition scores (BCS) that trigger action (e.g., if it hasn’t rained by a certain date, know how many cows need to be sold or dried off). Be sure that the feed budget includes the recovery post-drought i.e., having enough supplement to allow the grass to recover when it finally does rain.

Early, yet flexible, decision-making by constantly reviewing your plan and feed budget is critical in situations where climate and grass growth rates are uncertain. Having a vet or farm advisor work with you over the summer period to provide support and advice can be priceless in difficult seasons.

The good news is that all summer dry periods will come to an end, and with good planning and management, you can limit the impact of the climatic conditions thrown at you. If you would like any help from the Anexa farm advisory team, get in touch with your local clinic or contact us through the Anexa website.


Other resources you may find helpful:

Heat Stress in Dairy Cows



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