Weaners are grazed on areas of the farm that are unable to be accessed by in-milk dairy cows, equating to approximately 6 ha (5.0 % of the 120 ha). The herd is milked through a centrally located, 40 aside herringbone shed with 80% of paddocks less than 20 minutes’ walk to the dairy. The farm has an adjacent 40 ha support block of steep hill country.
The 2018-19 season mean calving date is expected to be about 5 days earlier than previous years. The challenge will be to maintain high pasture utilisation with a lower stocking rate, (285 cows compared with 305), through the spring period so that the herd peaks well on OAD milking in order to achieve production targets of 85,000 kg MS (708 kg MS/ha and 298 kg MS/cow).
Operating expenses are budgeted to be $3.93 per kg MS (FWE $2.61).
2018/19 Numbers at a glance
|Total kgMS||Cows milked||Hectares (effective)||Net Dairy Cash Income
|Total Farm Working Expenses
|Total Operating Expenses ($/kgMS)||Dairy Operating profit
2018-19 half-yearly update: December 2018
Six months into the season this farm has provided an update on how they are tracking, what, if any major challenges to their budgets they are facing and plans for managing any variances for the rest of the season.
Season to date 12-12-2018
The first half of the 2018-19 season has again been challenging. Wet conditions during the winter affected pasture utilisation again, and widely fluctuating spring growth made it difficult to allocate feed and maintain appropriate levels of pasture cover.
Pasture growth rates did not reliably exceed demand until mid-November so more PKE was fed than budgeted to compensate.
Currently there are 275 cows milking, and production to December 10th is 50,800 kg Milksolids. This is 1,000 kg MS up on the same time last year, but is behind budget. Per cow production to date is 11% up on last year.
Cash surplus is $12,000 behind budget at present largely due to milk income being slightly down and imported feed costs up.
Total milksolids per day is currently on a par with the same time last year, (but with less cows this year), however this year the cows are on all grass whereas last year PKE was fed for the early part of December.
Pasture cover is currently 2300 kg DM per ha including supplement yet to harvest. The rotation length is 24 days but should be out to 30 days by mid-January as silage paddocks come back into the round. Pasture quality is much better this year than for the same time last year.
Current cow condition score, (CS), is 4.5 which is 0.1 CS better than last year. There is also less variation in CS this year.
Conditions are still quite dry so plans are in place to prepare for a drier than normal summer and the revised budget is based on a seasons forecast production of between 82,000 and 83,000 kg milksolids, (2,000-3,000 down on the original forecast).
Farm working expenses should be close to budget despite the increase in feed costs, although with lower forecast milk solids the costs per kg MS are likely to be up about $0.12 per kg MS.
Plans to manage risks
Like many farms, drought and lower milk prices are the biggest concerns for the rest of this season.
The ten year average milk price is $5.90 to 6.00 so our budgets are based on that or lower, (and never higher), so at this stage it is the impact of a drought that will have the biggest effect on income.
The low cost structure of the business means that we are in a better position to absorb fluctuating milk prices and careful monitoring of the cash flow will ensure that costs remain under control.
To counter the impact of the summer dry, the plan is to reduce the stocking rate, any time from mid-January, to 2 cows per ha, through culling or selective drying off. This will reduce the feed demand on the milking area to 26 kg DM/ha per day. The PKE contracted for February, plus growth rates from Kikyu on the hills should be able to meet demand through February and March.
Feed and Pasture
- Wet July/August again compromised pasture utilisation, this was followed by a very dry period mid-September to the end of October. Reasonable rainfall late October has helped and there is now 14 ha of silage and 3 ha of hay to cut. It will all be for next winter and spring.
- Average feed demand from 20th September is 38 kg DM/ha per day. Growth rates from September 20th to late October seldom exceeded this so farm cover did not lift for six weeks. PKE was fed during this period.
- Fed 80 t of PKE in the spring, (budget was for up to 60 t). This is still less than half the amount of imported feed used 2 years ago.
- More PKE was fed in November than was budgeted to maintain feeding levels to the herd during mating and to also lift cover.
- Pasture cover at PSC (July 10th) was 2150 kg DM per ha which was at the higher end of target. By September 20th cover was 1870 kg DM per ha which was too low. Target was for 1950 kg DM /ha.
- Mean calving date was 4 days earlier than the 2017-18 season which increased feed demand in July by 9 t DM.
- Dry through October which slowed growth on the hill country.
- Planted 2 ha in chicory/plantain mix to repair damage from July/August. This was not included in the budget, but the cost was only $500 for seed. It is growing well and will be ready to graze in early January.
- Pasture quality on the hill country is very good, maybe at a cost to production, as cows have been made to work a little bit. Maintaining good pasture quality on the hill country has been an important focus going into this summer. With the hot, wet conditions last summer the Kikyu on the hill got out of control and the loss of pasture quality severely impacted production.
- Have contracted an extra 20 t PKE for February, to give 2 kg DM per cow per day for 30 days. This was purchased for $285 per t Landed which is $25 per t less than the earlier PKE used.
- N use to date is 25 kg N/ha so is still on track for the budgeted 40 kg N per ha for the year.
Calving and reproduction
- Mid-point of calving is July 31st which is 14 days from planned start of calving (PSC).
- Number of cows calved after three weeks was 76%, after six weeks was 94% and after 9 weeks was 100%.
- Three week submission rate is 92% with no interventions.
- Four weeks AB and 5 weeks using bulls for a 9 week mating period. Budget was for 3 weeks AB and 6 weeks bulls so cost is up slightly. Mated the top 60% on BW to AB Jersey and the balance to AB Hereford.
- Pregnancy test is scheduled for January 10th and the second herd test is due mid-January.
Other points of interest
- Peak milked 280 cows (budgeted for 285). This is 35 less than the previous season and was part of the plan to manage difficult spring conditions without relying on imported feed too much.
- Cost of imported feed is up about $5,000, and the imported feed budget for the season has been increased by about $12,000 or about $0.14 per kg MS.
- Income is down about $6,000 largely due to the lack of dividend in October. Feed costs are up $6,000 for extra PKE.
- R & M is still on budget but more has been spent early as severe weather events have caused damage to the tanker track so urgent remedial work was needed.
- All other costs are close to budget.
- Will still be able to make principle repayments out of cash flow.
- Because of the scale of the business the options for diversifying in to horticulture are currently being investigated. There is scope to add 4 ha of avocados to the business to provide balance to the dairying business.
- Plan for next year is to shift the date pasture growth exceeds demand on the spring rotation planner to early October (has been September 20th).
Bio-security & Environment
- The farm is self-contained apart from bulls being brought in. These come from a farm with a known history and good bio-security controls.
- Over 50% of the farm boundaries are native bush or orchards. Boundaries with other livestock farms either temporarily fenced to provide a barrier to contact or care is taken to not have stock on the boundary at the same time.
- There are scrubbing stations at the dairy shed for visitors.
- A Farm Environment Plan, (FEP), has been done recently, which has helped to prioritise continued fencing and riparian planting.
- The FEP identified runoff from races as an issue, so multiple runoff areas into the paddocks have been created to use the pasture as a filter.
- Effluent is spread over 3 times the minimum recommended area so application rates are very low.
- Labour is provided by the owners, with relief staff used after calving. The move to OAD milking midway through 2016-17 plus the installation of cup removers has had a significant impact on workload and there is now more time to focus on monitoring and planning.
- Operate a low input system, with the farm becoming self-contained for winter and spring feed in the form of hay and silage. In the next year or two PKE will only be used as a tool to help manage for adverse events.
- Cows are wintered on farm
- Because limited area on the farm is suited to cropping, and wastage is high, maize is no longer grown. More silage will be harvested for autumn/winter use.
- The environmental implications of cultivation on soils and leaching have also been considered and the policy is now nil cultivation. The plan is to use deferred grazing and a semi fallow policy on the hilly support block as part of a natural re-grassing programme, and only use under sowing to renew pasture on the flatter areas of the farm.
- Focus on strategies to optimise pasture grown and pasture eaten. Over the past 2 seasons the farm has achieved a pasture eaten between 10-11 t DM/haFarm walks are done visually every two weeks using the easy pasture assessment tool and the feed budget updated after each walk, (see www.dairynz.co.nz/feed/feed-management-tools/). The frequency of farm walks increases during the spring, particularly when growth rates can change quickly to ensure any surpluses are managed efficiently
- Contractor use is kept to a minimum although some fencing is done by contractor
- Pastures are predominantly ryegrass/white clover with a percentage (30%) becoming kikuyu dominant in summer. The low ME of pasture in the summer can become an issue when conditions favour Kikuyu growth (as happened in 2018)
- Kikuyu is on the steeper hill country and is managed by heavy grazing with carry over and dry cows in late autumn and then over sowing (by air) with ryegrass and fertiliser
- Some of the steeper parts of the farm still require development through subdivision. Steeper paddocks are being re-fenced into smaller paddocks to improve pasture utilisation, and improve feeding levels through better allocation
Key success factors
- Focus on high pasture utilisation despite the contour of the farm, through good subdivision and frequent monitoring and updating of feed budgets
- Has a good network of like-minded farmers who work closely together to share ideas, workloads and reduce costs
- Use tools, information and networks provided by the industry to enhance the efficiency of the business
- Maintain and monitor own budget and cash flow and update often
- Have a good knowledge of own important farm figures, (feed budget and cash flow budget), and monitor and rework both frequently
- Makes decisions based on updated farm information.
- Not hesitant to try new things and is able to formally evaluate outcomes effectively due to good record keeping