Friday, 29 April 2016 10:55

Maximise pasture yield and feed the cow

Written by  Jack Ballam, FarmWise consultant
Jack Ballam, LIC FarmWise consultant. Jack Ballam, LIC FarmWise consultant.

Given the tough financial situation, it is time for dairy farmers to rely more on pasture production and to plan how to get more milk from fewer cows.

There is a place for supplements, to bridge feed gaps -- particularly in the early part of the season -- but the first priority should be to maximise the pasture grown (ie the megajoules of metabolisable energy or MJME) and harvested per hectare.

Too often farmers talk about supplements (which cost money) rather than feed wedge, round length, growth rates, pastures in good growing state, nitrogen responses, stocking rates and so on.

It is easy for a farm manager to request or justify the need for additional inputs in the form of nitrogen and supplements when, in fact, the need could have been avoided had the timing of earlier decisions been different. Examples include culling and otherwise reducing stock numbers, speeding up or slowing down the grazing round, altering the milking frequency of part or all of the herd and the timing of when and what cows to feed supplements to.

Dairy farmers succeed by first excelling at growing pasture -- optimising the use of the land they farm. You should treat the farm as a grass factory and aim to grow a quality 'crop' of pasture on every paddock every grazing (no matter what the round length) in order to maximise MJME/ha.

Every region and farm within a region will differ, but the aim should be to get optimum round length that will meet cow requirements, and grow surpluses for supplements. Every farm needs to be managed to limit risk or exposure to 'bad' weather -- cold, wet, drought, etc. Risk management might take the form of expensive capital improvements (eg irrigation, feed pads, in-shed feeding).

Much better is a farming system based on maintaining more pasture (ie higher average cover / feed wedge). This may be achieved by a longer round to smooth out highs/lows in daily and weekly growth rates and make sure the cows are always fully fed.

In other words, you take control of your feed situation rather than the feed situation controlling you; then you can limit or avoid 'mayday' calls for more feed -- most of them avoidable

With costs rising and payouts low there is little margin for error. Buying in feed (and / or taking a production drop) to fill a hole in the feed wedge may not be an option.

Cherish and protect pasture cover and feed wedge and keep pastures in a good vegetative growing state. This will underpin growth rates and responses to nitrogen applications.

Farm with a buffer in the feed wedge and be prepared to use a mower (assuming the farm is mowable) to control quality or harvest surplus for supplements. It is often cheaper to mow than to feed supplements from a feed wagon (if you're forced to buy supplements to correct a deficit).

Be mindful of pasture utilisation and over-grazing. It is better to use 80% of 15 tonne / ha than 90% of 12 tonne. I believe pasture production and per cow / total milk production on farms is now limited by incorrect utilisation practices.

Moderate the stocking rate and focus on looking after the cow by fully feeding year-round relative to the stage of lactation. This will flow through to well-fed cows and improved herd health, reproductive performance (without intervention) and per cow productivity.

A hefty portion of a farm budget gets spent on breeding and rearing replacement stock with high genetic merit. As farmers we should be aiming to exploit that productive potential.

Aim to fully feed all stock to requirements (subject to stage of lactation) every day of the year on high ME feed.

Maintain high ME intakes by:

Appropriate calving date

Suitable stocking rate (cows per ha / breed and size of cow)

Preparing autumn feed budget = target cover / feed wedge as at dryoff and start of calving

Preparing spring rotation plan = controlled management of feed and first spring rotation

Setting feed management guidelines

Regular feed monitoring.

• Jack Ballam is a FarmWise consultant.

More like this

Record number of elite bulls join AB team

LIC says farmers around New Zealand are set to reap the rewards from a record number of genetically superior young bulls joining the ranks of its artificial breeding bull teams.

Covid hinders CEO search

Farmer co-operative LIC says its search for a new chief executive has been impacted by current restrictions imposed by Covid-19.

Engine room of NZ economy

Departing LIC chief executive Wayne McNee is proud of his contribution to the farmer-owned co-operative.

Proud of another strong result

LIC chairman Murray King spoke at the farmer co-operative's virtual annual general meeting this month. The following is an excerpt from his speech, outlining LIC's annual result:

National

Dairy tops organic exports

Dairy has been named as New Zealand’s largest organic sector with exports of $153.8 million, up 55% from 2017.

Machinery & Products

Gongs for John Deere

The tractor of the Year 2022 Awards, held at the recent EIMA show in Bologna, handed out a brace of…

Digital pre-start safety checks

According to numbers published by ACC, more than 60 farm-related injuries are reported every day, leaving much room for improvement.

JV for Bucket Test App

Irrigation NZ and global farm management company CropX have established a joint venture agreement for the Bucket Test app.

» The RNG Weather Report

» Latest Print Issues Online

Milking It

Poo-powered BMW

OPINION: Car maker BMW is partnering with a California dairy farm to turn effluent into clean energy to power its…

Not bad

OPINION: New Zealand may be a minnow on the global stage but here’s another example how our ag sector punches…

» Connect with Dairy News

» eNewsletter

Subscribe to our weekly newsletter