Outdoor farming systems in New Zealand provide lots of positive experiences for our cattle. They enjoy the fresh air, varied and interesting environments and the opportunity to express natural grazing behaviour. But living outdoors also means exposure to all types of weather which can be unpleasant at times.

Shelter and shade can be provided in a number of ways including through the use of topographical features such as gullies or hollows if they’re deep enough, natural features such as stands of trees or scrub, hedges or shelter belts, or artificial structures such as buildings or hay stacks.

As a farmer, adverse weather plans can help you reduce the negative effects of weather on animals by addressing their wellbeing. Veterinarians can provide advice on incorporating strategies to protect animal wellbeing in existing farm adverse event plans.

Identifying risk

Early signs of significant cold exposure in dairy cattle include behavioural changes such as seeking shelter, facing away from the wind or rain with the back hunched, shivering, and huddling together. 

Where animals are exposed to cold conditions with which they cannot cope, their core body temperature drops below the normal range (hypothermia). As hypothermia progresses, animals become depressed and listless and may die. Such depression and listlessness indicates the need for urgent remedial action.

When dairy cattle are exposed to conditions that cause heat stress, they will use a number of ways to relieve the heat load. Find out more about heat stress here.

Types of events

Developing plans

The planning process involves both how to feed cows and how to manage the financial implications. The timing of decisions is critical for an adverse event and planning goes a long way to getting the timing right.

Plans need to be unique to the farm and a good place to start is by working through the farm map. 

  • Identify specific weather hazards and mitigations for example prevailing wind direction, flood prone areas, snow zones, steep terrain at risk of slips, fire prone areas, volcanic/earthquake zones. 
  • Identify potential mitigations, such as areas of shelter, evacuation routes and safe paddocks for flood/fire/snow/volcano/earthquake, locations of emergency feed and water supplies.
  • Once the specific farm hazards and mitigations have been identified and mapped, more detail on specific adverse weather responses/procedures can be developed.

Include the people element, as adverse weather can have profound impacts on the entire team. 

  • Include an emergency roster to ensure everyone gets some time off to recharge, plan to meet regularly and get off the farm.
  • Remember to check on neighbours, friends and family and reach out to your local Rural Support Trust for support and advice.
  • Ensure you have a crisis priority checklist and the whole team knows where to find it.

Where to go for further information?