Strategic use of a moderate amount of nitrogen and minimising pasture damage by focusing on optimising pasture use for a high performing pasture-based system. Operating a simple system by doing the basics very well, maximising milk production from pasture and minimising pugging damage.
- The Blacks focus on grass as they believe, “You can lose your way with too much grain.”
- Use a fast round in spring to help protect paddocks from pugging.
- Jersey cows are efficient and small and suited to the Black’s system which is susceptible to pugging when wet.
- Don’t waste Nitrogen (N) fertiliser, apply in small amounts at the time of year it will be useful.
Alan and Ann Black have dairy farmed in Southland for 16 years. They emigrated from Scotland in 1999 and have farmed their current property for 13 years.
During their first three years farming in New Zealand, the Blacks found people very good at sharing ideas and felt like “sponges” for information. The Blacks found the DairyNZ discussion groups very helpful to quickly build their knowledge and to build a network of good people around them which continues today.
The home property consists of a 155ha milking platform and 95ha support block. The Blacks winter some cows on the milking platform on 15ha of kale. The kale crop is part of the annual regrassing
The milking platform is used for lactating cows (15ha of kale for winter crop and annual regrassing programme). The adjacent support block is used for winter fodder crop (kale) for cow wintering and grazing for the farm’s young stock.
The Blacks also own a 59ha property at Colac Bay used to graze jersey bulls. The Blacks focus is on operating a simple system by doing the basics very well and maximising milk production from pasture.
Key to their farm system is minimising the risk of pugging damage. N is strategically applied at low rates to fill feed deficits. They feed 200 tonnes of grain for the season through the shed fed throughout the season at a maximum rate of 1kg grain/cow/milking, down to a minimum 200gms grain/cow/milking.
The Blacks aim for a high kg MS/kg of Lwt: 435kg MS from jersey cows that weigh 400kg Lwt.
The Black’s farm working expenses (few) are 3.40/kg MS including the cost of operating the support block.
“It’s about doing it well and getting ahead,” Alan Black
The Blacks are focused on maximising high quality pasture growth. Their property soils are brown and gleyed soils and easy to manage. However the weather conditions (high rainfall with cold frontal weather systems from the south west) drive cows into corners making the farm highly susceptible to pugging damage.
Pugging damage would directly impact on pasture production, 30 percent pugging damage in a paddock could cost $2,500/ha in lost production.
The Blacks feel attention to detail and flexibility allows them to minimise pugging damage. Because their farm is managed around weather conditions, they assume at some point it is going to get wet so they plan to give themselves options.
Key strategies to minimise pugging damage
- Smaller size cow (jerseys).
- Be prepared to operate a faster round in the spring. The adjacent runoff is used for cow grazing if they hit a feed pinch and leave higher residuals (1600 to 1700kg DM/ha) on the milking platform.
- Use a calving shed for removing drying-off cows and springers from pasture. This reduces pasture damage, leaves grass for milkers and offers ease of management at a busy time of year.
- Minimise supplement feeding on paddocks in spring by feeding grain through the dairy.
- Graze new grass paddocks during the day, cows can be moved if it rains.
Dry off high SCC cows and light cows by 1 May and half the herd by 15 May, this minimises risk of damaging soil if wet in late May.
Simple tips for minimising pasture damagee
- Always watch the weather forecast: Be prepared to move cows if it is raining.
- Prepare options: If the forecast suddenly changes it’s easy to change where the cows are going, i.e.:
- If it is wet give the cows more area - can tighten them up when it’s dry
- Save drier and sheltered paddocks for when it is wet.
- Take care of operating on long round lengths (35 days plus): The stocking density can make it hard to minimise pugging damage.
- Take advantage of dry periods: Graze off young grass and wetter paddocks
- Educate staff: Ensure staff understand the importance of minimising pasture damage and what to do if wet weather is forecast.
Strategic N use
The Blacks use low rates of N to pre-empt feed pinches and extend round length. Their N application timings have been developed over many years of experience on the same farm. All applications are applied at a rate of 25-30kg N/ha with a total annual usage of 100-120kg N/ha.
- First application: August / September – the Blacks know they are going to be tight for feed in spring.
- Second application: October (pre mating) – to cover potential feed pinch at an important time of the year. Can get rough weather conditions at this time of year.
- Third application: December – cover January which can get drier and the pasture has been changing to a reproductive stage.
- Fourth application: February / March – as extending round length going into the autumn.
Pasture quality is managed through making baleage from surpluses (fed in autumn and on the winter crop) and a small amount of strategic topping.