Increasing pasture harvested and reducing imported supplements to save costs. Shane’s focus is on turning pasture into milk with minimal costs by decreasing imported supplements.
- Keep the team involved and aware of what is happening on farm.
- Focus on the details and use time wisely to assess pasture growth rates.
- Focus on making the most of available pasture.
- Use any inputs (fertiliser or supplements) when they are going to be of most use, i.e. fertiliser when grass is growing and supplements when there is a feed pinch.
Shane spent twelve years working as a fisherman before working four years in forestry. He then worked as a 2IC on a Nelson dairy farm that peak milked 400 cows.
Ten years ago, Shane and his family moved from Nelson to Mayfield to work on the current farm. The farm has two dairy sheds with Shane as contract milker on one and a farm manager on the other.
The farm has overseas owners with operations overseen by a management committee made up of a local farmer, local consultant and New Zealand-based relative of the owner. The owners’ brief is to be sustainable and profitable. The management committee creates annual budgets which Shane reports against on a monthly basis.
When Shane arrived, the farm was growing approximately 10 tonnes DM/ha on farm and using 1.8 tonnes DM/cow of imported supplement and struggling to be profitable. The management committee set a task of reducing imported supplements and improving grass growth.
The first step to improve grass growth was to maintain Nitrogen (N) fertiliser applications. The second step was to improve the farm’s water availability through increasing water take from wells and the Rangitata Diversion Race water scheme. The additional water improved the efficiency and flexibility of the applied N fertiliser.
The farm’s altitude is approximately 270m above sea level. The farm’s location means it is prone to cold springs and autumns (frost and snow) and hot summers (when the nor’wester intensifies) all creating variability in grass growth.
According to Shane, the farm is at present achieving an average pasture production of 12.7 tonnes DM/ha, with Farmax modelling indicating they can grow over 13.5 tonnes DM/ha. Shane’s farm working expenses are budgeted at $4/kg MS.
The farm has a team of five fulltime staff to help run the operation.
Since Shane arrived on the farm, imported supplement inputs have decreased to improve the farm’s profitability from 1.8 tonnes DM/cow to a budget of 0.7 tonnes DM/cow for the 2015-16 season. The aim is to increase grass production through good management, timely application of N fertiliser and efficient use of available water. The existing stocking rate was achieved by running scenarios through Farmax and discussions at the farm management committee.
This season (2015/16) Shane planted 15ha of fodder beet to feed late lactation cows and hopefully reduce imported supplement at this time of year.
The farm is in the Hinds catchment which means, “All farming activities are also required to operate at good management practice from 2017. Farming activities with nitrogen losses above 20 kilograms per hectare per year cannot increase above their nitrogen baseline. They are also required to operate at good management practice by 2017. From 2025 they are required to achieve further reductions beyond good management practice.” *
* Environment Canterbury Regional Council. (2016, June). Hinds Plan Change, here.
Managing feed demand and supply
Shane’s focus is turning pasture into milk with minimal costs by decreasing imported supplements. This has reduced cow numbers from 3.7 to 3.4 cows/ha and the aim is to maintain this level on mostly grass.
The aim is to provide supplements only over the period when grass growth does not meet cow demand on farm. Supplement price will be a driver in this decision. Over spring a maximum of 5kg DM (grain and PKE) may be feed in the shed and for no longer than 10 days.
This means getting the pasture focus correct. This is achieved through:
- Regular farm walks (every 7 to 10 days) and flexibility around walk frequency which increases when supply and demand is tight i.e. up to twice a week.
- Walks can vary from actual farm walks to farm drives in the Ute, again, depending on circumstance.
- Walks are made with senior staff on a regular basis so that everyone’s eye is seeing the same thing alongside the use of the plate meter.
- Notes are made alongside plate meter readings about the paddocks, i.e. the paddock’s weed content and “steminess” of the grass (indicating reproductive stage).
- Regular farm walks are used to identify paddocks with surpluses, the aim being to conserve these at just under 3,000kg DM. This can be a problem due to availability of contractors, which is why just under 3,000kg DM is targeted.
- Taking the time to teach junior staff about the importance of pasture measurements
- Aiming for a dry-off target of 2,100kg DM/ha, so that cows return to good quality grass in spring. Growth rates over winter vary by around 5kg DM/ha/day.
- Applying N fertiliser little and often throughout the year based on soil tests and applying using precision tracking technology.
Fodder beet has been planted on 30ha of the milking platform to provide late autumn feed alongside silage grown on the platform. If needed, Shane is prepared to import maize silage. Cows are removed to winter grazing from the end of May.