Winter grazing

Good winter grazing practices can reduce run-off into waterways and also help with better soil productivity.

No matter what time of year, farmers with winter grazing should be thinking ahead to how they can minimise soil damage and reduce run-off into waterways.

Is winter grazing in your Farm Environment Plan (FEP)?

Winter farm grazingThe best way to better manage nutrient loss from your current farming system is to prepare a winter grazing plan as part of your Farm Environment Plan.

It is now expected that you plan well ahead for where and how you're going to carry out winter grazing on your farm. This is to ensure any environmental risks associated with winter grazing are identified and managed to industry-agreed Good Management Practices (GMP). 

Having something documented will give others, whether it is an FEP Auditor or a compliance officer, greater confidence that you have planned sufficiently for the season. It also helps with your own planning, management and making sure you've thought about every aspect of your winter grazing. This can be as simple as completing a template, such as this one from DairyNZ, or including a basic plan within your existing FEP.

Get in touch with us or your farm advisor if you need assistance. You can also read our winter forage crop grazing and wet weather management guidelines for FEP auditors (PDF File, 1.38MB).

Good management practices for winter grazing

Here are some ways to protect soil structure and reduce leaching of nitrogen and phosphorous into waterways on your farm.

  • What's your plan for bad weather? Having practical bad weather mitigations must be part of planning your winter feed management. For example, what will you do to stop soil damage and increased run-off entering waterways during storm events?
  • Paddock selection for winter is crucial – it's best to choose paddocks away from waterways and wet areas prone to pugging to reduce the risk of sediment and nutrient run-off.
  • When planting the crop, leave grass buffer strips around critical source areas, such as gullies and swales, where the run-off collects and flows out of the paddock.
  • Have a good look at the landscape and ensure there are larger buffers around the waterways. This can really help reduce sediment and nutrient loss into waterways.
  • Graze strategically by protecting any critical source areas. Leave them in the pasture or graze last, when it is dry, if they need to be grazed at all.
  • It's also a good idea to back-fence stock off the land that has already been grazed, to even further reduce run-off. Strategic grazing and careful management of critical source areas can reduce losses of sediment and phosphorous (P) by 80-90%.
  • In wet conditions, practice on/off grazing to minimise pugging damage to the soil and distribute nutrients from dung and urine more widely.
  • Plant a cool tolerant follow-up crop, such as oats or rye, as soon as possible after grazing. This can soak up nutrients from the soil, rather than them being leached if the paddock is left fallow.

Industry resources

Industry organisations have some great resources to help with winter grazing.

Are you aware of the rules relating to winter grazing?

Winter farm grazingWe have implemented strict land-use rules throughout Canterbury requiring farmers to manage a range of environmental issues, including those caused by winter grazing.

  • Stock exclusion from beds of rivers, lakes and wetlands - cattle and deer that are break-fed on winter feed crops, pigs and all dairy cows are not able to access the bed of a river, lake or wetland without a resource consent.  The rules also prevent other stock from causing pugging or sediment loss to water where there is a change in water quality or clarity.  There are also sensitive areas such as freshwater bathing sites, drinking water protection zones and īnanga (whitebait) spawning sites that all cattle, deer and pigs are prohibited from accessing. There may also be zone-specific restrictions, so it is best to double-check the rules that apply to your farm.

  • Discharges of sediment or drainage water - there are a number of good management practices that can be used to manage the risk of sediment discharge into waterways. In addition to your consent and FEP requirements, no farmer is permitted to allow the discharge of sediment and other contaminants into waterways.
  • Farming land use consents - nutrient rules require all farmers to implement good management practices on their farm. Some farmers require a farming land use consent and a Farm Environment Plan that needs to be regularly audited if their winter grazing area exceeds plan limits.
  • Find out what rules apply to your farm - view zone-specific rules and information.

Our articles and resources

Contact us

For more help, contact Customer Services on 0800 324 636 and they will put you in touch with one of our land management advisors for free advice or information on winter grazing.

We also recommend you talk to your industry representative on how to manage nutrients and include winter grazing in your Farm Environment Plan.