Friday, 01 March 2019 12:39

Tiller Talk promotes pasture

Written by  Pam Tipa
Don and Kirsten Watson. Don and Kirsten Watson.

Northland ‘Tiller Talk’ farmers Don and Kirsten Watson took a leap into farm ownership in 2017-18, moving to South Head (Kaipara Harbour Edge). 

Before they took on the farm, the Watsons had trained and worked as vets before working up the sharemilker ranks (King Country and Central Plateau). 

The Watsons share responsibility for different areas of the day to day management and Kirsten is responsible for the administration and accounts.

Tiller Talk is based on the progress of 19 key farms across New Zealand as they receive expert advice and support. 

Local like-minded farmers then work together with the key farmer to improve farm profitability through better pasture management using small onfarm groups and social media.

Tiller Talk farmers are supported by an agronomist from the seed companies partnering with Tiller Talk. 

The Watsons are the Northland Tiller Talk farmers, supported by Kyle Gardyne, area sales agronomist for PGG Wrightson.

A case study of their farm was presented at a recent Northland SMASH field day in Kawakawa.

The Morelands Farm (Kaipara Harbour/South Head) is 115ha effective which is 80% marine clay flats and 20% sandy loam rolling. They lease 90ha to grow maize and rear heifer replacements and surplus calves.

With a 32-bail rotary and feed pad they peak milk 270 cows (2.4 cows/ha) with 16 hour milking. 

Calving started on July 16, spring mating on October 7 and March 10, and autumn mating on June 1.

The pasture was previously 100% kikuyu but they now have 20% Italian ryegrass. They have summer crop of chicory mix and supplement with maize silage.

Their aim in the short term was to build a farm with a cost structure under $4/kgMS FWE and producing 120,000kgMS. To do that they aim to increase home grown feed eaten and reduce supplements. Their goal is production of 12tDM/ha from the pasture and crop eaten. 

In their first season (2017-18), paddock contour and drainage improvements were done to increase pasture utilisation, and they focused on increasing summer feed quality with clover and crops. 

The season started as spring calving (under a system 4), with the first autumn calving in March 2018. 

They produced 91,578kgMS from 290 peak cows. Pasture eaten was 8t. 

In the 2018-19 season to date, pasture and crop eaten has already exceeded last year’s total pasture and crop eaten. They are on track for about 11tDM/ha eaten.  Milk production at the time of presenting to the SMASH field day on February 7 was 88,000kgMS on $4.2 FWE season to date.

Each extra tonne of DM pasture and crop eaten produces an extra $300/ha profit, the field day heard.

They have revised targets and their 3-5-year goals are 135,000kgMS + $1.50/kgMS stock/other farm income at $3.5 FWE based on 300 cows producing 450kgMS eating 13t/ha home grown feed and importing 2t/ha from the runoff. 

Getting more cows to eat grass

1. Have goals and set a KPI baseline to monitor improvement 

- Clear goals on pasture eaten and financials

- Calculate pasture and crop eaten 

- Use DairyBase to benchmark 

- Use other farmers’ data from other regions to benchmark 

2. Measure monitor and tweak 

- Monitor pastures weekly 

- Use a feed wedge 

- Feed budgeting

- Don’t be afraid to adjust rotation length to manage APC 

3. Understand the system 

- Analyse your system 

- Match feed supply and herd demand as close as possible without over reliance on imported feed 

- Understand what doesn’t work/risk areas and look for opportunity e.g. use crop. 

4. Incremental gains 

- Keep getting the little things right 

- Grow more pasture (adjust rotation, optimise N)

- Utilise more pasture (reduce supplement, manage pre-grazing height) 

- Successful pasture renewal ‘four pillars’ 

5. Innovate and challenge 

- Be confident to try new things 

- Use data and evaluate 

- Examples 2 in 3 milking, chicory, new cultivars 

6.  Use advice 

- Tiller Talk – advice & recommendations from Kyle Gardyne 

- Local knowledge

- Planning/implement best-practice

- Challenge the ‘status quo’.

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