A severe pasture deficit will only be filled by strong pasture growth when conditions improve, and by managing pastures very well.
No two spring calving seasons are the same, so respond to the situation in front of you. Focus on matching feed supply to demand as best you can, but that’s not always straightforward. A strong focus on pasture management can minimise the impact on this season’s cashflow and herd mating performance
Improving pasture growth
- Use supplements and a long rotation length to improve pasture growth.
- Use the Spring Rotation Planner to increase, hold or control the rate of decline in pasture cover.
- Manage any available pasture accurately to add the best value to the situation in the long term. Grow your way out of trouble.
- Later in the calving period, as balance day approaches (when pasture eaten = pasture growth) stay on at least 25 days. Rotations faster than this grow less grass and mean a longer time spent in pasture deficit.
- Supplementary feeds could help but should not be the focus. They are expensive and in short supply. Flexibility is required, a heavy reliance on supplements could take you down a risky path towards higher costs and lower cash flow. Check out the supplement price calculator.
- Using nitrogen fertiliser and gibberellic acid will promote pasture growth more cost effectively than supplement. They also need a long rotation to allow their value to come through. Read more about the tactical use of nitrogen fertiliser and gibberellic acid.
- Once a day milking could be considered and may add more value for money than buying feed and be financially more sustainable.
- Reducing stock numbers on badly impacted farms, if possible, should be considered. This could take several forms:
- A temporary shift of milking cows to another farm where they can be fed and milked on your behalf
- A permanent reduction in stocking rate through early culling or ‘in-milk sales’.
Reducing stocking rate
Further culling to reduce stocking rate prior to calving could be a response to serious feed shortages on some farms. This option comes with risks, especially to profitability, and other options need to be considered first.
Reasons for considering further culling
- More available feed for remaining stock.
- Improving cash flow and possibly profit. Potential for cost savings greater than any revenue lost.
- Adjusting to a “new normal” if the farm’s pastures and feed resources have been consistently unbalanced in recent years (feed demand greater than feed supply).
- Lower stocking rate required for higher feed demand from improved herd genetics.
- Tidying up the herd, i.e. an early cull of cows near the culling threshold last season.
Risks of reduced stocking rate
- Less Profit. Revenue reduction is greater than costs saved.
- Increased pasture surpluses, including costs of harvesting surpluses and retaining suitable pasture quality.
- Impacts on Balance sheet. Sale of Capital stock. Tax considerations
- Getting a good price for stock
- Reduced opportunity for future expansion of herd.
New balance between feed supply and feed demand
What is the trend in home grown feed harvested annually for your farm? Are trends in annual volumes of imported feed costs going up or down?
Your accounts will provide a figure on expenditure on feed costs. (NZ average =$1.60/kg MS). Has this cost been increasing on your farm?
Adjusting for improved herd genetics
As the herd improves through breeding, feed demand also increases. DairyNZ estimates that at normal rates of genetic gain feed demand per cow increases by 0.4% per year (4% over 10 years).
Currently the feed demand for a 288 cow herd is now equal to the feed demand of 300 cows 10 years ago. A reduction of 1.2 cows per year for every 300 cows is justified to allow for genetic improvement impacts on feed demand, particularly if you have not made this adjustment previously.
The next truck on the drive could be earning income rather than bringing in costly feed. Frequently there are annoying cows that didn’t quite make the last truck load, i.e later calvers, 3 titters, slow milkers etc.