Intensive winter grazing


Intensive winter grazing and wintering on crops

The New Zealand Veterinary Association (NZVA) considers that intensive winter grazing practices (eg. of cattle, sheep, and deer on crops) should only be undertaken when the welfare of animals, people, and the environment is protected. This means meeting the requirements of section 4 of the Animal Welfare Act 1999, and adhering to sound principles for the sustainable management of natural and physical resources.

Intensive winter grazing and wintering on crops are common practices in some areas of New Zealand. The NZVA’s primary concern is where poor practices harm animals.

If livestock are kept for a prolonged time in wet and muddy conditions, without adequate shelter, and unable to lie down, rest, and ruminate as they normally would, it is stressful and harmful to the animal's health overall. There's a lot of research in this area that supports these concerns. See the reference list below.

Many animal health and welfare issues arise from livestock being kept for a prolonged time in wet and muddy conditions, including:

  • poor hoof health that contributes to claw lesions and lameness
  • inability for proper rest and rumination
  • increased risk of mastitis
  • reduced production
  • variable access to shelter

In addition, the welfare of the animals is negatively affected when cows don’t have a suitable surface on which to lie. Research has shown that cows don’t like lying on concrete, yet when presented with a choice between mud or concrete, cows choose concrete. Dairy cattle reduce lying times by 50-75% when on mud, compared to comfortable, free draining surfaces (normal lying times are 10-12 hours in well-managed lactating, pastured cattle). Lying time is important for rest, sleep and rumination and an important welfare indicator of cattle.

This is not simply about the physical health issues these animals may face, but also their mental state, which must be considered under the Animal Welfare Act.



NZVA statement: Living in mud is harmful to livestock

Otago Daily Times: Vets open to pan-industry initiative on grazing



We acknowledge that some of the references are not specific to the New Zealand practice of intensive winter grazing or the situation in Southland. However, they do provide evidence that is of direct relevance. Absence of evidence in the New Zealand context is not evidence of absence.

  1. Animal Welfare Act 1999
  2.  Barkema, H. W., J. D. Van der Ploeg, Y. H. Schukken, T. J. G. M. Lam, G. Benedictus, and A. Brand. 1999. Management style and its association with bulk milk somatic cell count and incidence rate of clinical mastitis. J. Dairy Sci. 82:1655-63.
  3. Borderas, T. F., B. Pawluczuk, A. M. de Passillé, and J. Rushen. 2004. Claw hardness of dairy cows: Relationship to water content and claw lesions. J. Dairy Sci. 87:2085-93.
  4. Bond, T. E., Wm. N. Garrett, R. L. Givens, and S. R. Morrison. 1970. Comparative effects of mud, wind and rain on beef cattle performance. Proc. Amer. Soc. Agr. Eng. 70:3-9.
  5. Chen, Jennifer M., Stull, Carolyn L., Ledgerwood, David N.,Tucker, & Cassandra B., (2017), Muddy conditions reduce hygiene and lying time in dairy cattle and increase time spent on concrete; Journal of Diary Science, 100(3), 20902103.
  6. C.L. Stull, L.L.McV. Messam, C.A. Collar, N.G. Peterson, A.R. Castillo, B.A. Reed, K.L. Andersen, W.R. VerBoort. 2008. Precipitation and temperature effects on mortality and lactation parameters of dairy cattle in California. J. Dairy Sci., 91, pp. 4579-4591
  7. Degen, A. A. and B. A. Young. 1993. Rate of metabolic heat production and rectal temperature of steers exposed to simulated mud and rain conditions. Can. J. Anim. Sci. 73:207-10.
  8. Dohmen, W., F. Neijenhuis and H. Hogeveen. 2010. Relationship between udder health and hygiene on farms with an automatic milking system. J. Dairy Sci. 93:4019-4033.
  9. Fisher, A. D., M. Stewart, G. A. Verkerk, C. J. Morrow, and L. R. Matthews. 2003. The effects of surface type on lying behaviour and stress responses of dairy cows during periodic weather-induced removal from pasture. Appl. Anim. Behav. Sci. 81:1-11.
  10. Fisher, A.D., Verkerk, G.A., Morrow, C.J., & Matthews, L.R., (2002), The effects of feed restriction and lying deprivation on pituitary-adrenal axis regulation in lactating dairy cows. Livestock Production Science 73: 255-263.
  11. Fregonesi, J. A., D. M. Veira, M. A. G. von Keyserlingk, and D. M. Weary. 2007. Effects of bedding quality on lying behavior of dairy cows. J. Dairy Sci. 90:5468-5472.
  12. Holmes, C. W., R. Christensen, N. A. McLean, and J. Lockyer. 1978. Effects of winter weather on the growth rate and heat production of dairy cattle. New Zeal. J. Agr. Res. 21:549-56.
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  16. Houlbrooke, D.J., Paton, R.J., Morton, J.D., and Littlejohn, R.P., Soil quality and plant yield under dryland and irrigated winter forage crops grazed by sheep or cattle, Australian Journal of Soil Research 47(5) 470-477 +pdf
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  18. Jubb, T. F., and J. Malmo. 1991. Lesions causing lameness requiring veterinary treatment in pasture-fed dairy cows in East Gippsland. Aust. Vet. J. 68:21-24.
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  20. Mader, T. 2011. Mud effects on feedlot cattle. Nebraska Beef Rep. No. MP94 . Univ. of Nebraska-Lincoln, Lincoln.
  21. McDowell, R.W., & Houlbrooke, D.J., (2009), Management options to decrease phosphorous and sediment losses from irrigated cropland grazed by cattle and sheep, Journal of Soil Use and Management, 25(224-233), doi: http://10.1111/j.1475-2743.2009.00231.x +pdf
  22. McDowell, R.W, (2006), Phosphorus and Sediment Loss in a Catchment with Winter Forage Grazing of Cropland by Dairy Cattle, Journal of Environmental Quality Abstract - Landscape and Watershed Processes, 35(2) 575-583, doi: http://10.2134/jeq2005.0364 +pdf
  23. McDowell, R.W., Cox, N., & Snelder, T.H., (2017), Assessing the Yield and Load of Contaminants with Stream Order: Would Policy Requiring Livestock to Be Fenced Out of High-Order Streams Decrease Catchment Contaminant Loads?, Journal of Environmental Quality - Landscape And Watershed Processes, 46(5), 1038-1047, doi: http:// 10.2134/jeq2017.05.0212 +pdf
  24. Morrison, S. R., R. L. Givens, W. N. Garrett, and T. E. Bond. 1970. Effects of mud-wind-rain on beef cattle performance in feed lot. Calif. Agr. 24:6-7.
  25. Monaghan, R. M., Laurenson, S., Dalley, D. E., & Orchiston, T. S., (2017) Grazing strategies for reducing contaminant losses to water from forage crop fields grazed by cattle during winter, New Zealand Journal of Agricultural Research, 60:3, 333-348, DOI: http://10.1080/00288233.2017.1345763
  26. Muller, C. J. C., J. A. Botha, and W. A. Smith. 1996. Effect of confinement area on production, physiological parameters and behaviour of Friesian cows during winter in a temperate climate. S. Afr. J. Anim. Sci. 26:1-5.
  27. Munksgaard, L., Ingvartsen, K. L., Pedersen, L. J., & Nielsen, V. K. M., 2010, Deprivation of Lying Down Affects Behaviour and Pituitary-Adrenal Axis Responses in Young Bulls, Acta Agriculturae Scandinavica, Section A — Animal Science, 49:3,172-178, doi: 10.1080/090647099424088
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  29. Reich, L. J., D. M. Weary, D. M. Veira, and M. A. G. von Keyserlingk. 2010. Effects of sawdust bedding dry matter on lying behavior of dairy cows: A dose-dependent response. J. Dairy Sci. 93:1561-1565.
  30. Reneau, J. K., A. J. Seykora, B. H. Heins, M. I. Endres, R. J. Farnsworth, and R. F. Bey. 2005. Association between hygiene scores and somatic cell scores in dairy cattle. J. Am. Vet. Med. Assoc. 227:1297-1301.
  31. Stewart M., Fisher, A.D., Verkerk, G.A., & Matthews, L.R., (2002), Winter dairy grazing systems: management practices and cow comfort. Proceedings of the New Zealand Society of Animal Production 62: 44-48.
  32. Schreiner, D. A. and P. L. Ruegg. 2002. Effects of tail docking on milk quality and cow cleanliness. J. Dairy Sci. 85:2503-2511.
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  34. Schütz, K. E., K. V. Clark, N. R. Cox, L. R. Matthews, and C. B. Tucker. 2010. Responses to short-term exposure to simulated rain and wind by dairy cattle: time budgets, shelter use, body temperature and feed intake. Anim. Welf. 19:375-383.
  35. Tucker, C. B., A. R. Rogers, G. A. Verkerk, P. E. Kendall, J. R. Webster, and L. R. Matthews. 2007. Effects of shelter and body condition on the behaviour and physiology of dairy cattle in winter. Appl. Anim. Behav. Sci. 105:1-13.
  36. Water quality in New Zealand: Land use and nutrient pollution November 2013,* taken from 32. Williams, L. A., G. J. Rowlands, and A. M. Russell. 1986. Effect of wet weather on lameness in dairy cattle. Vet. Rec. 118:259-261.