Photo by: Rebecca Dwyer Photography

Winter 2022

This season we had an incredibly wet winter which added additional challenges to the team while they worked hard to keep the cows safe and content.

Animal Health & Performance

No glaring differences were seen between the conventional herd grazing on the kale compared to the regenerative herd grazing on the diverse winter crop in the bloods or Body Condition Score (BCS).

Both herds ended the winter with a BCS of 4.9, the target for all Align herds was 5.0.

We had 2 herds on the kale and 2 on the diverse. Something that was observed but did not turn up in the results was the difference between each herd on the kale. One herd just did not go as well, compared to the other that went quite well. We hypothesize this is due to lack of rest area because of our incredibly wet winter. A lot more sitting and relaxing was observed on the diverse crop, but in saying that, one of the kale mobs still did well.

Blood tests were done back at the milking platform, and we saw a rapid improvement from last year on both sides, which was rewarding as we put a big effort into that this past season alongside our vets at Vet-Ent. There were no major differences between the two herd, we have noticed that via blood tests, cows’ energy balance has been lower on the Regenerative side however feel this is to do with what’s happening on the dairy farm rather than from wintering. Once Regenerative cows are moving into twice a day milking herd this is quickly remedied.

Now we are back on the dairy platform, per cow production is starting to take off on the regen side, this is because of superior grass and reduced stocking rate. There is a slight reduction in ME in the regen pasture compared to the conventional pasture, and we believe this is causing the differences in energy balance in the stock, but not significantly impacting production.


Although the differences weren’t noticeable in the bloods, from a visual perspective the cows were in a better condition earlier on the diverse than on the kale and the BCS among the herd seemed more consistent. We were surprised when both herds scored 4.9 as we could visibly see the cows in better condition and the winter coat came in quicker and more evenly for the cows grazing the diverse crop.

N Loss

To determine N loss, without installing lysimeters, we used Mineralisable-N as a proxy for N leaching, as they did in the FRNL Catch Crop study. The average of the results are as follows:


Kale Diverse
Pre-graze Post-graze % Change Pre-graze Post-graze % Change
Ammonium- N (mg/kg) 5.1 32.4 535% 2.6 8.6 231%
Nitrate N (mg/kg) 3.6 13.6 278% 1.6 7.5 369%
Mineral N (sum) (mg/kg) 8.7 46 429% 4.2 15.9 279%


Ina Pinxterhuis from DairyNZ was kind enough to run a quick statistical analysis of this data and found:

  • Pre-grazing there is no difference between kale and diverse crop for total mineral N, ammonium N and Nitrate N
  • There is a significant increase in total mineral N post grazing for both crops, though the increase was significantly greater for kale than for diverse crop
  • No change in ammonium N pre and post-grazing for the diverse crop, but a highly significant increase for kale post grazing
  • Both crops showed a significant increase in nitrate N post grazing. While the increase was a bit greater for kale than for diverse crop, this interaction was not significant

All these differences are to be expected due to the differences in crop yield and stocking density. The crude protein was lower on the kale but that did not compensate for the increased yields or grazing density. Both showed higher nitrate post grazing, so microbes would have been converting ammonia to nitrate under both crop types. These results indicate that with a lower stocking rate the risk of N loss can be minimal, however much more land is required for winter, which comes at a cost.


We had 5 paddocks of diverse crop and 4 paddocks in kale. 4/4 or 100% of the kale paddocks required cultivation before being direct drilled into diverse pasture, whereas 3/5 or 60% of the diverse paddocks still had a living root and we were able to direct drill into them following grazing, with no soil remediation work required. The 2 (40%) diverse paddocks that we did end up cultivating were more about dealing with structural damage than it was about pugging, and we could have gotten away with 1.5 paddocks but just did the whole paddock in the process. From a pugging perspective, we were very pleased with the diverse crop’s performance, and we can infer there would be animal health & wellbeing benefits from these differences.

Stocking Rate

The stocking rate on the kale was almost 3x that of the diverse crop with 1250 cows/ha on the kale and 420 cows/ha on the diverse crop. We acknowledge that this additional land area may not be available to many farmers.

Bale Grazing

We did trial bale grazing in one paddock, offering 4-5 bales per day and putting them out 5 days in advance. Overall, we were very happy, it was better than expectations. We did notice that when it was dry there was no litter left, however, when it was wet it was the opposite, the cows used it to sit down. You could view the litter that was sat on and trampled as wastage, however, if they weren’t sitting there, they would have been trashing soil elsewhere, so when we consider what is worse – sitting on hay, or pacing the paddock, we don’t view it as ‘wastage’.

Overall, we were pretty impressed with bale grazing and will do it again, the cows were clearly very content and comfortable which will lead to improved performance, along with benefits to the soil. The trick is getting good quality hay, which is getting harder to do. We may start doing this on farm and cut less silage and more hay. Worth noting that round bales work better as they can be moved and rolled by the cows, whereas the square bales don’t separate as easily. The biggest limiting factor is access to hay, we will do as much as can next season, based on our production. We will trial it with silage (in round bales) as well.

Species selection

This season we tried to cut grass out as we found it dominated last season. This worked well from a winter perspective, we had a nice diverse sward with the associated animal health benefits, but we did not get the re-growth we would have liked, only plantain and clover returned. We did not get a second grazing off it as hoped before the cows left, though we would be in a position to graze it lightly now.

If we were to throw a stone at diversity, it is around its consistency, one paddock gets dominated by grass, while the other paddock with the same mix is dominated by cereal. It is hard to ‘control’ or anticipate what we are going to get, and when we are running a large operation that is a hinderance.

We have decided as a business to move to all grass wintering for a variety of reasons including animal health, team well-being, environmental outcomes and to be able to claim 365 days grass-fed premiums.  Our mix will include cocksfoot, meadow fescue, prairie grass, white & red clover, chicory, and plantain to be a grass dominated diverse pasture that will be more drought tolerant, have great early spring growth, while also holding up in wet weather. This will be sown across the entire property in time.