Farmers buying feed to keep cows milking as drought ravages coastal Taranaki

“It’s the worst I’ve seen in 40 years around the coast,” Taranaki Rural Support Trust chairman Mike Green said.

“There’s farms that completely dried off before Christmas when they would usually milk through to early May. That’s 50 per cent of their annual income,”

A drought was declared in Taranaki just before Christmas. Since then, although some areas of the province have received some rain, farms on the coastal strip between Manaia and Pungarehu have missed out.

Many farms had gone early to once-a-day milking, and others had culled heavily.

The drought was taking a big toll on the people, Green said.

“The last few seasons have been pretty terrible. People are just worn down and pretty tired. They’re coming under stress, that’s for sure. It’s important to be looking after each other, helping each other through difficult times.”

Those who were badly affected needed to get a plan in place, talk to their bank, and contact the Trust, the Inland Revenue or the Ministry of Social Development for help, Green said.

The effects of the drought would filter through the rest of the province.

“Obviously farming makes up a huge part of the Taranaki community. Unfortunately, eventually, this will impact across the community.”

Green went to Taihape this week to find supplements for farmers in Taranaki to buy.

Getting the hay and silage trucked back for a viable price was his next challenge.

“I’ve also been trying to organise grazing up there. Sometimes it’s easier to move the animals than the feed.”

He estimated about 25 per cent of the normal amount of supplements had been harvested on farms in the area this season.

Agricultural contractor Marc Gopperth, of Manaia, said recent rain in some places had turned the brown grass to green, but much more was needed.

“The grass is not growing. There’s been small windows of rain but the extent of pugging that occurred during the winter, the grass has never recovered 100 per cent from that.

“We’ve cut about half the area we would have normally done, and in the area we have harvested there’s about half as much grass growth as usual.”

Opunake farmer Michael Drought said most farmers were buying in supplementary feed.

“This is the worst I’ve seen, and I have been farming here for fifty years almost. At the moment I’m doing it for the fun of it, not because we’re getting anywhere.

“It got dry so early. We went from really wet to dry really quickly. Normally people make a lot of silage in November and December but the rain stopped in October and didn’t start again, so nobody got any real supplements made.

“We’ve culled heavily, we culled 25 per cent of one herd. Normally it’s about 10 per cent.”

His son Simon, who wasn’t born when the last severe drought occurred in the early 1970s, said they had three farms at Opunake and leased one at Okato, and all were suffering the same.

On the spring-calving farms, where they still milked twice daily, the cows were being fed twice the amount of supplements they needed normally, and they began feeding bought-in hay and silage, palm kernel and meal weeks ahead of schedule.

Cows in the autumn-calving herd were dried off several weeks early, he said.

“I’m pregnancy-testing next week and I’ve got the truck booked in for 50 cows. Usually I’d keep some of the empties milking for a while yet, but I’ve got to look after the other ones, and that’s 14kg of supplement per cow per day I’m not having to cover.”

He was coping by taking some time off to go fishing, he said.

“You’ve got to have a couple of other hobbies to get you off the farm, relax and chill out and don’t over-think it. Catch up with mates with a beer, talk a load of rubbish and not about the farm.

“If you think about it 24/7, you wouldn’t be sleeping too much at the moment, I imagine.”

The Government announced $160,000 in financial support for farmers when the drought was declared. Those needing help were advised to contact their Rural Support Trust for advice.


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