Boy, am I grateful for supermarkets – food is always available, I just pay for it. But it’s different with farm animals, where it’s necessary to carefully manage food supply to see them safely through winter. Grass growth slows dramatically in winter and early spring, meaning less food for animals. For those farms with poorer soil types or low fertiliser inputs, grass will not grow well until late September,
I was discussing winter management with a good farmer client of ours, and he relayed a story about when he had been sharemilking in an area with lots of lifestyle blocks neighbouring his property. He commented that these lifestyle farmers always ran out of grass in the winter. He felt so sorry for the animals that he often threw bales of hay over the fence to give them something to eat. He paused for a moment and then added that he could not understand it. His neighbours were all accountants, and he was surprised that they did not realise that if you don’t divide up what is available, it will be all gone before you know it.
Recently I attended an animal welfare court case where the farmer’s defence for under-feeding his animals was that he could not afford to buy feed for them. Furthermore, he could not afford to apply fertiliser to improve grass growth, so that was the reason the animals were starving. Now is that a valid defence? Should a farmer be able to have animals and not care for them? Luckily for the animals, there are animal welfare standards which require all owners or people in charge of animals to legally provide adequate food for them. My simple advice: If you are unable to feed your animals or your finances do not allow you to buy food for them, then they should be sold to someone else who can provide for them. Other good advice would be to restrict the areas which your animals can graze and ration the available food. Then allow the areas grazed to be spelled to let them regrow.
There is a common saying in farming circles: “Grass grows grass.” Pasture needs leaves to photosynthesise – the more leaves available, the faster the grass grows. Feeding farm animals in winter requires a reasonable amount of skill. Seek advice from your neighbours or your veterinarian if you are unsure about how to do it.
Stephen McAulay, CEO and head vet, Wellsford Vet Clinic