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Learn the habits of farmers with excellent pasture management, including controlling daily grazing area, treating pasture like a crop, and maintaining optimal pasture cover. These practices directly impact pasture quality, how well the cows perform, and the amount of milk they produce.
Read on to gain valuable knowledge about topics such as ryegrass, regularly assessing your pasture, using supplementary feed, and making the most of a feeding wedge. Additionally, you can explore different production systems and how they affect milk production.
Pasture-based dairy farming is a balance between managing the pasture and the cows to maximise sustainable profit.
Pasture, without any input other than basic fertiliser, drives more than 85 percent profit for most farms at a $7.00 per kg MS milk price, and 98 percent at a $4.00 milk price.
By putting pasture first farmers can reap the rewards.
We’ve identified 7 common habits followed by farmers with excellent pasture management.
Grazing intensity and cover affects pasture quality and production - and quality affects pasture intake.
To achieve the best results, grazing management should focus on maximizing future pasture production and quality while supporting ongoing cow performance and milk production.
Successful pasture management starts with these essential habits:
The Five Production Systems are a way to group farm production systems by allocation of imported feed.
As New Zealand pastoral farming is about profitably balancing feed supply and demand, five production systems have been described by DairyNZ firstly on the basis of when imported feed is fed to dry or lactating cows during the season, and secondly by the amount of imported feed and/or off-farm grazing. The definitions do not include grazing or feed for young stock.
These definitions are intended to help your understanding and description of feed resources used on farms in relation to common performance indicators, such as milksolids per ha. They are not intended as a ranking system, or any indication of DairyNZ’s preferences.
System 1 - All grass self-contained, 100% home-grown feed with all adult stock on the dairy platform
No feed is imported. No supplement is fed to the herd except supplement harvested off the effective milking area and dry cows are not grazed off the effective milking area.
System 2 - 90-99% of total feed is home-grown feed
1-10% of feed is imported either as supplement or grazing off for wintering dry cows.
System 3 - 80-89% of total feed is home-grown feed
11-20% of total feed is imported to extend lactation (typically autumn feed) and for wintering dry cows.
System 4 - 70-79% of total feed is home-grown feed
Approx 21-30% of feed imported and used at both ends of lactation and for wintering dry cows.
System 5 - 50-69% of total feed is home-grown feed
More than 31% of feed imported and used throughout lactation. Feed imported could be greater than 50%
*Note: Farms feeding 1-2kg of meal or grain per cow per day for most of the season will best fit in System 3.
If you are considering changing your farm system this page will help step you through the process and ensure you can proceed with confidence.
Due to economic and environmental challenges, many dairy farmers are having to reassess their farming operations and significantly adapt their farm systems.
The five steps for successful farm systems change process has been developed by interviewing dairy farmers nationwide and learning from their experiences.
Farmers suggested that before embarking on a significant change, understand the current farm situation.
Start this assessment by answering the following questions:
"We had goals on the way through, we had a goal to buy cows, we had a goal to buy a farm. You get to these goals and now you’ve got to reset your goals, and that’s actually the hard thing isn't it, it’s resetting." (Southland farmer - System 4)
The farmers we talked to also said they needed to know why they were changing, what is the problem that significantly changing the farm system will fix?
Often the actual problem is not the first that comes to mind. Continuing to ask, ‘why is this a problem’ until you get to the root cause, can be helpful. Also consider undergoing a farm assessment and planning process.
"I think the most important thing when you’re making changes is to really understand the reasons why the changes are being made." (Waikato farmer – System 3)
Before making a change, it is important to think through the potential implications as best you can.
"I've learned so much over the last couple of years making all these big changes. It's not just about the dollar, it's about the personal values too, and the personal values of the farm owners and then how I want to be seen by others as well." (Canterbury farmer – System 3)
"With an $8.00 payout, the original system I was on was brilliant, because I was stocked to the hilt … you can throw in as much supplement as you want and it still made money. And then we hit the dive and I said "No, this is not how I want to farm. My risk needs to be low, I need low exposure because I'm quite highly geared in my debt.”(Canterbury farmer – System 3)
Once they decided to change, the farmers questioned if they had the right skills to make the change.
They suggested asking yourself:
If you are looking for techniques to help you manage the change, a range of tools and templates are available via the 'goals and actions' link below.
"The essential takeaways are you’ve got to find somebody that you will listen to, you’ve got to be willing to listen to them and you’ve got to want to change." (Canterbury farmer - System 4)
"I had quite a cumbersome business, it was slow to respond and I hadn't really geared myself up around risk management. It was just the first year [of change] and I was just getting hammered through it. Then suddenly the payout just dropped like a stone, and that's when I needed to sharpen up my business skills." (Canterbury farmer – System 3)
"I did the Mark and Measure course and it got me thinking a lot about my growth and my business and stuff like that, and the fact that I do believe so much it's a team effort, it's not just me." (Canterbury farmer – System 3)
In the study, farmers wanted to know how to estimate if they were successful or not.
They suggested the following guiding questions: