In his third season, sharemilker and Ravensdown shareholder James Barbour takes us through the farm’s approach to nutrient management.
Even at a conservative 50g lwt/day better weaner growth through spring, summer and autumn, the South Canterbury/North Otago farmers heard how the resulting earlier finishing and consequently better prices promised a 96.9% return on capital deployed in regrassing (see table).
“If these guys can shift that average growth rate up by 50g/day they will bring forward average kill date by a month and a half,” explained Macfarlane Rural Business consultant and field day facilitator, Nicky Hyslop.
Electronic Identification of weaners and consequent closer monitoring of weight gain has shown the field day property, Downlands Deer near Geraldine, that weaners on new pasture last month gained over 250g/day, while those on old did 120g/day.
“That’s the sort of thing you need to see to give you the confidence to go out and spend on new grass.”
But Hyslop also stressed: “it’s not just about chucking new grass at the system”; soil fertility, fencing, and water supply need to be in place to ensure extra growth potential is realised and harvested.
“You need to make those investments ahead of your regrassing programme… there’s no point growing a truckload more feed if you’re going to let it get away on you.”
Downlands is using a one year annual grass break to clean out old browntop and rush infested paddocks before going back into a mix of perennial ryegrass, clovers, chicory and plantain.
Once established, pasture management should follow the dairy developed principle of the feed wedge, keeping a range of covers on paddocks from 1500kgDM/ha on those just grazed – “the residual” – to 2,800kgDM/ha at point of grazing.
“That will a) maximise grazing quality and b) maximise regrowth.”
Analysing Downlands’ operation – 260ha of 80% heavy, rolling paddocks in a reliable 1000mm/year rainfall area – Hyslop acknowledged the relative risk of the venison schedule in finishing 1800 weaners/year, and rhetorically asked why not simply run more dairy heifers, given the farm already has 320 in the system.
“You couldn’t take on more than 500: they just don’t have the same seasonal fit that venison does.”
And if deer farmers focus on productivity, ensuring paddocks and livestock grow drymatter and liveweight to their potential, they would “be up there and out compete other options,” she maintained.
DINZ venison marketing services manager Innes Moffat wrapped up the field day with a presentation on “surviving post crash Europe”, but for farmers, as Hyslop pointed out early in the day, productivity has to the focus.
“Why do I keep going on about productivity? Because it’s the one thing you can really control.”