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Published: 2008-08-22 00:00:00

Use of so-called "sacrifice paddocks" is best avoided and they need particularly careful management if they are used, says Environment Waikato’s sustainable agriculture coordinator Bala Tikkisetty.

"The recent very wet weather in the region underlines the importance of this," said Mr Tikkisetty.

Moist or wet soils can’t support the weight of grazing stock as well as dry soils can and are therefore more susceptible to compaction and pugging.

"Moving stock to a hard stand-off pad for time out or feeding helps minimise damage to farmers’ best pastures during extra wet periods.

"But some farmers who don’t have stand-off pads can use a sacrifice paddock – one that they’re prepared to see suffer to help protect their other land.

"For environmental protection reasons the council prefers the use of hard stand-off pads with appropriate effluent management."

But, for those farmers who have yet to install stand-off pads, Mr Tikkisetty suggested a number of ways to help manage sacrifice paddocks to minimize problems for stock and the environment.

"There should be enough shelter available that stock can be continuously housed in these paddocks without undue stress."

To help ensure that sacrifice paddocks themselves don’t suffer too much from stock trampling, Mr Tikkisetty suggested that any feed is not spread in the same area all the time.

Also, occasionally dragging a set of light harrows around would help break up excreta. "This ensures good exposure to sunlight that will kill any pathogens or parasites that could otherwise build up in the paddock."

Mr Tikkisetty also suggested that sacrifice paddocks – which inevitably congregate larger numbers of cows than usual in one spot – should not be near sensitive areas such as waterways, property boundaries and significant ecological features.

While there are no specific rules associated with sacrifice paddocks in Waikato, they are covered by general rules that prohibit the run-off or discharge of contaminants such as effluent or sediment into water bodies.

Mr Tikkisetty pointed out potential disadvantages to using sacrifice paddocks.

"If used for more than a few days, the pasture will usually be severely damaged and require a full pasture renovation.

"So, after the winter wet has passed, it’s best to cultivate them and sow a summer crop to restore the soil.

"With any renovation it is important not to leave it too long before the first grazing. A simple way to check when it is ready is to grab some grass between your thumb and forefinger and gently pull upwards. If you pull up roots, then wait a bit longer. If not, it is ready for its first quick light grazing."

Another potential disadvantage to sacrifice paddocks is the risk of soil structure damage and possible animal health problems, such as lameness. Also, if soil potassium levels become too great in a paddock (potassium is excreted in urine) this can predispose the calving cow to metabolic problems.

For further details, please contact Bala Tikkisetty on 0800 800 401.