Saturday, 14 February 2015 00:00

Plan feed for cows carefully

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Farmers are moving to milking once a day as the dry sets in. Farmers are moving to milking once a day as the dry sets in.

Carefully consider feed planning decisions to keep cows in milk while maintaining their condition, advises DairyNZ.

In some regions dry conditions are now affecting milking, says general manager extension, Craig McBeth, and farmers are at ‘crunch points’ – having to make calls on feed planning and milking frequency.

“Some farmers have moved to once a day milking or milking every 16 hours as a way of managing their way through very dry conditions in most parts of the country despite the recent rainfall.

“In the last couple of weeks we’ve seen pastures go from green to brown quickly with limited post grazing regrowth. Soil moisture levels are well below average for this time of year and we’re now seeing that reflected in crisp pastures.”

Parts of Taranaki and Southland have had substantial rain, but other areas need a good soaking and follow-up rain to get soil moisture levels up to support grass growth.

“That’s why we’re keen to help farmers make good decisions as they manage their way through these dry conditions. With a low milk price, these judgement calls become more complex as you delicately balance the profitability of keeping cows milking and using supplementary feed.

“Farmers need to consider that drying off all their cows too soon is also an expensive decision.

“Generally, for the North Island, we know that in dry summers March 20 is the date by which we need substantial rain before drying off all cows to secure pasture and cow condition targets for the next season.”

He says it is good to keep some cows milking until that date to maintain milk income at a reasonable level and to have the option of having cows in milk should grass growth accelerate after good rainfall.

Options include a combination of selective culling, possibly milking once a day or every 16 hours and buying in or using their own supplementary feed.

McBeth says this still makes economic sense as there is some reasonably priced feed (less than 30 cents/kgDM delivered on farm) available for farmers to buy in to keep cows milking profitably. 

“This latest rain will give crops like maize and turnips an extra growth boost so we’re advising keeping on growing crops too, rather than feeding it early to cows.  This will maximise the benefit of the rain we’ve had. And where substantial rain has fallen, say greater than 50mm, then it is worth applying nitrogen fertiliser.”

McBeth says making the calculations for feed planning is always an individual call. Farmers facing the driest conditions in Canterbury, North Otago and Wairarapa are in a more advanced and challenging situation.

Much more rain is needed to get soil moisture levels back to normal. “Farmers have to make the calculations and judgement calls now about how much grass growth we can expect in the next two to three weeks. 

“They will need to make their own individual decisions about how to balance feed supply and feed demand. Factors to weigh up include costs and how many cows to keep milking and how often. With a bit of moisture around, they will also need to keep an eye on spore counts to manage the risk of facial eczema.”

DairyNZ advice and guidance on feed planning and summer management is available on www.dairynz.co.nz and at DairyNZ discussion groups taking place ar0und the country.

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