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TAS Country : June 14th 2012
32 Tasmanian Country Friday, June 15, 2012 The Stock Report Making the most of pasture LOST OPPORTUNITIES: Average pasture consumption is about half what it could potentially be, a study has found. Harvesting more grass lifts profits ALEXIS PEREZ ALEXIS PEREZ PASTURE consumption is a key driver of profit in a grass-based farming operation. However, findings based on five years of data from the Dairy Business of the Year benchmarking program, representing more than 80 farms, show that on average pasture con- sumption is about half what could potentially be grown. The findings highlighted that there are a lot of opportunities to harvest more grass, and therefore increase profit, in Tasmanian dairy farms. With a potential drop in milk price for the coming season and input costs increasing, it is critical to maximise pasture harvest in order to reduce input cost. Improving pasture harvest will result in an increase in profit. Using tools such as farm feed budgets, farm walk reports and the leaf stage calculator available from the internet (www.tasdairyprojects. com.au/Tools) or submitting the in- formation to TIA to enter in the Dairy Business of the Year benchmarking program will help you to identify where your farm is in relation to other farms in your district and across the state. There are several ways farmers can harvest more grass. Match feed supply to feed demand: A low stocking rate can limit the potential to directly harvest grass. Measuring the amount of pas- ture available, and then adjusting the number of cows per hectare accord- ing to pasture availability and the amount of supplements provided, is essential. Have the right cow for your system: In grazing systems it is commonly the target to have 80 per cent of the cow's live weight trans- formed into milk. This means that a 500kg cow would have to pro- duce 400kg of milk solids a year. Having the right cow genetics to match your system and farm environ- ment is critical. Stand-off pads and feed pads: For winter and spring, especially in wet areas, having stand-off pads and/ or feed pads may be beneficial. Standing the cows off paddocks when the soil is saturated will minimise pasture and soil damage and increase pasture harvested in both the short and long term. Increase seasonal intake: If the milk peak is higher in spring, the demand in the summer and autumn increases, and therefore the cow's daily intake increases. Research has shown that if you increase the amount of cows' intake during spring, then you can effective- ly increase yearly milk production from your herd. To lift intake in spring, it is necessary to have an average pasture cover (APC) between 2200 and 2300kg DM/ha at calving. (DM is DairyMod, a simulation model used for predicting and understanding the consequences of weather and management decisions on dairy grazing systems, predicting outcomes according to grass growth, water availability and fertiliser management.) Also, as a rule of thumb the APC should be always be maintained above 1800kg DM/ha in order to feed the cows to achieve the gains. The provision of good-quality supple- ments, if needed, and appropriate rotation length is required to main- tain high cow intakes. Pasture management moni- toring: It is important to quantify pasture growth rate and monitor the APC, before and after grazing covers, at the time of making pasture man- agement decisions. Plate metering and feed wedges allow monitoring more efficiently the pasture availability, and enable more informed decision-making, especially when in feed surplus or deficit situations. More grass There are many ways of growing more grass. Identifying poor performance paddocks: There can be a significant variation in terms of pasture grown between the poor-performing and the top-performing paddock (the differ- ence can be more than 50 per cent). So identifying these by measuring the amount of pasture grown is key. A plate meter can be very useful tool in this situation. Re-grassing: Pugging damage in winter or early spring, weeds, poor drainage and old pasture species can be some of the reasons that you should be considering pasture renovation. You should aim for clean ryegrass and clover pasture, and re-grass about 10 per cent of the farm a year. The potential of pasture renewal is 5 tonne DM/ha/yr. If it is assumed that 75 per cent of the 5 tonne extra grown is harvested (target 75-80 per cent), then 3750kg DM/ha will be converted into milk as 15kg DM/kg milk solids -- resulting in an additional 250kgMS/ha/yr. At $5/kg MS payout, you make an extra $1250/ha in the first year. To renovate 1ha will cost about $1100/ha, and therefore you will be paying back the investment in the first year. Drainage: If you want to grow more grass, drainage becomes very important. Hump and hollow or contouring are options being implemented very effectively in some areas of Tasmania, such as Circular Head. Nitrogen and nitrogen technologies: Nitrogen is still one of the cheapest ways to increase feed supply. You need to be careful when using nitrogen to minimise leaching, especially in regions that experience heavy rainfall. Some of the new nitrogen products may be of some use in preventing leaching or volatil- isation, but more research is required. TIA has specific pasture management workshops available for staff and managers. The next pasture management workshops will be at Smithton Polytechnic campus on June 28 and July 5, or otherwise attending the monthly Dairy Smart Business Management Discussion Group can be beneficial to improve farmers' pasture management skills. For more information contact Alexis Perez on 0418 876 089 or firstname.lastname@example.org Alexis Perez is the senior industry development and extension officer for the Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture.
June 7th 2012
June 21st 2012