Spring lambs bring renewed optimism

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The new lambing season has brought some fresh optimism for North Canterbury farmers.
The mild winter and recent rain has made for a comfortable lambing so far, but feed is starting to run out as the prospect of a third year of drought sets in.
Hawarden farmer Mark Zino said his lambing percentages were higher than normal and lamb survival was good, but he was having to stock his paddocks at five milking ewes to the hectare, instead of the usual nine ewes.
He was also facing the prospect of a ‘‘massive re-grassing programme’’ once the spring brought improved soil temperatures.
‘‘It’s a big cost, but that’s the reality of farming in a dry environment. It’s also a good opportunity to introduce some new drought resistant grass species and improve our feed quality – so it’s a glass half-full rather than a glass half-emptyscenario.
‘‘The spring flush hasn’t happened yet. We don’t start growing grass until the soil temperatures are 10 degrees or more.
‘‘At the moment it’s still the usual late August, with snow on the hills and frosts in the morning and soil temperatures are five to six degrees.’’
He said July had produced 90mm of rain and 40mm in August, so a boost of 50mm to 100mm in September would help get back on track.
Mr Zino said he and his brother Sam had reduced ewe numbers by about 10% and over all stock numbers by about 20% to cope with dry conditions, with few beef cattle still on the property and no dairy heifers grazing this year.
This allowed the brothers to focus on the ewes and the deer operation, which was producing some favourable returns.
‘‘On the flip side, our deer numbers are actually up because the contract prices are strong, so we’ve changed our focus away from dairy grazing.’’