See the results of different management decisions year-round as these farmers work to improve the growth and utilisation of pasture.
Through October, many dairy farmers continued to experience challenging weather. Improved ground conditions has allowed dairy farmers to start establishing crops and take area out for silage. Here’s a summary of what’s happening on the Tiller Talk farms.
Upper North Island
The South Head Tiller Talk group met in October. Agronomist Kyle Gardyne taught the farmers the major differences in plant characteristics, growth, and nutritive value between kikuyu and perennial ryegrass. We learnt that kikuyu should be managed on a grazing rotation as quick as 14-18 days in early summer. People took away that focussing efforts on maintaining pasture quality now is key to good milk production later in the season.
In the Waikato, the focus has been on taking paddocks out for establishing summer crops.
Markus Woutersen (Cambridge) planted one paddock of chicory as a means of controlling yellow bristle grass. Drier ground conditions have enabled Markus to start sowing maize and fodder beet in the last week of October. The fodder beet will be used to feed calves in late summer/autumn. This is one month behind schedule.
Aaron Price (Morrinsville) and Susan Dyer (Te Aroha) sowed chicory in the first half of October. Aaron hopes that chicory will be ready for grazing by December 1. Chicory sowing rate was 8kg/ha and he allowed for 10kg/ha for odd shaped paddocks.
Improved weather and ground conditions have enabled Dave Swney (Te Awamutu) to sow maize (October 16 - 20). Turnip paddocks were sprayed out during the third week of October. Dave is focussed on maintaining high pasture quality and good crop establishment. Dave has used pre-graze mowing on some paddocks to rectify higher post-grazing residuals that resulted from the wet weather, especially on the tall fescue paddocks.
Bay of Plenty
Brett Steeghs and Ruth Hone (Mangakino) were pleased to see growth rates increase from the start of October and have stopped feeding PKE. Meanwhile, 5ha of summer turnips were drilled on 25 October.
Following the Tiller Talk workshop on Murray Linton’s farm earlier in the spring, Murray and his team increased their focus on monitoring pasture leaf stage and using the feed wedge to identify early signs of surplus. The team has prioritised harvesting high quality silage (cut sooner rather than later).
Lower North Island and Taranaki
Farmers in the Manawatu and Wairarapa faced challenging weather earlier in October. Kathy Craw and Logan Bowler were focussed on protecting soils and avoiding pasture damage, and post-grazing residuals were higher than usual.
The cropping paddocks were sprayed on the third week of October, except for 2.2ha of summer turnips that will be sown later. Kathy says cropping is about two to three weeks late this spring due to the wet weather. Palm kernel has been removed from the diet, and the cows are fed grass only.
For Cameron Woodhouse (Carterton), the soft ground caused by wet weather made it difficult to top some paddocks and rectify higher post-grazing residuals. On October 20, 13ha of turnips were sown, about 10 days later than usual. Like many, Cameron is hoping for the sun to stay and for the cows to produce a bit more.
In Kaponga, balance date was three weeks late this spring. In mid-October weather conditions improved and pasture growth increased so Matthew Herbert and Brad Markham were able to slowly remove supplementary feed. Crop paddocks were sprayed out in the second week of October.
In Inglewood, Robert Buchanan has been on a 21-day round since the first week of October, when pasture growth met herd demand. Some top priorities for Rob this month are repairing pasture damage and focusing on surplus management.
Tasman and Canterbury
On Michael Shearer’s farm (Nelson) 15ha of chicory were sown, and 24ha of grass silage were made from the support block on October 21. Earlier in the month the Tiller Talk farmers met and discussed spring grazing management, Michael’s cropping programme, and the use of DairyNZ’s Forage Value Index tool which allows farmers to make more informed decisions when choosing ryegrass cultivars for their pasture renewal programme.
In Culverden, Hayden Fletcher had to return to paddocks that were grazed to high post-grazing residuals early due to the rain. In Hororata, Thomas Iriving’s feed wedge was ‘very flat’ early in October as a result of consecutive wet weeks. The increase in pasture growth rates later in October has enabled him to set aside two paddocks for silage.
At the Tiller Talk meetings on the farms of Paul Awaikera and Hayden Cartwright, farmers discussed post-grazing residuals and their target pre-grazing covers, pasture surplus management and the importance of increasing pasture cover monitoring as growth rates increase, to act quickly and ensure high quality pasture is maintained.
Southland and North Otago
The sun has been generous this spring in Hedgehope, with growth rates in the 60-90 kg DM/ha/day range on Blake Korteweg’s farm. He has set aside 15ha for baleage, and fodder beet was sown at the end of October.
The Northern Southland Tiller Talk farmers discussed pasture growth monitoring, cropping, and soil fertility at their first meeting last month. Farmers also debated the pros and cons of pre-graze mowing as a tool to maintain or restore pasture quality.
Cultivation strategies were a hot topic discussed by the North Otago group last month. Morgan Easton cultivated his next fodder beet paddock on the first week of October, three to four weeks before sowing.
Common questions asked by the Tiller Talk farmers
What are your decision rules for your round length? What is the fastest you will go and why?
Michael Shearer, Nelson: “I like a 25-day round here. Although on the dry hills we kick it out to 35 days come December or when we see it turning dry”.
Thomas Buckley, Cambridge (Waikato): “I’m trying to get as much grass eaten and only make a genuine surplus. Round length has been bouncing around between 18 and 28 days as we juggle nipping off undersown and new grass areas. It will settle towards the 28 days once all the crop ground is out. I will slow it down to 30 days by December.”
Matthew Oberlin-Brown, Gordonton (Waikato): “We stick to 24 days as a minimum to ensure third leaf emergence of our ryegrass pastures, for simplicity with our paddock sizes this is typically 26-28 days.”
Kaylene Aubrey, Tirau (Waikato): “We're sitting on a 21-day round. This drops down to an 18-day round when we lock paddocks up for silage.”
Matthew Herbert, Kaponga (Taranaki): “I've just gone to a 21-day round; I am not keen to go any quicker than that due to weather risks. I figure if I come up to a paddock that has lost quality I'll just skip it, bale it, and put it back in the round. I don't really 'lock up' silage here as our surplus at any one time is not big enough.”(16 October)
Robert Buchanan, Inglewood (Taranaki): “I really only make silage from a genuine surplus as I just skip paddocks that get too long for the cows to clean up. I try to hold a 21-day round until Autumn.”
Blake Korteweg, Hedgehope (Southland): “I wouldn't go shorter than 23 days as weather risks are too high down here. I try to stay on a 25-28-day round 80% of the milking season. I would rather buy supplement in than skimp (on feeding) cows to make surplus on farm.”
Thomas Irving, Hororata (Canterbury): “We have the irrigation button to push so I am watching soil temperature and weather, and once it’s over 12 degrees we go from a 25-day round length after the first round to 18-20 days. I try not to make silage. I hold it to 20 days through to February.”
Nicholas Verhoek, Masterton (Wairarapa): “I used surplus if genuine, for crop/pasture renewal. I am at 23-25 days rotation length (on 16 October) and I try to sit there.”
Murray Linton, Te Puke (Bay of Plenty): “We tend to stay around a 30-day round, and it shortens as we take pasture surplus out. With some paddocks out now we are on a 24-day round.” (16 October)
Some key principles around rotation length:
- Rotation length should be adjusted as pasture growth rate changes. When growth rates are high in spring, shorter rotations will avoid excess pasture cover accumulating and loss of pasture quality.
- After balance date rotation length is reduced as growth rates increase. To ensure sufficient pasture is grown to meet herd demand don’t go too fast. This equates to approximately the 2-2.25 leaf stage of regrowth for moderately stocked farm systems (18-22-day rotation), or closer to three leaves for high stocked farms (25-30-day rotation).
When faster rotations are required, supplements should be removed to ensure cows achieve target post-grazing residuals at each grazing.
How does my pasture cover relate to leaf stage?
Pasture cover depends on:
- The number of leaves grown per ryegrass tiller
- The size of the leaves grown (which is influenced by factors like ploidy and nitrogen available)
- Tiller density
Agriseeds agronomist, Will Henson adds:
“The 3-leaf stage does not correspond to a certain cover. This is because leaves will grow longer (and wider) when conditions are favourable (adequate fertility, moisture, temperature, and light).
For example in spring, pasture can be at the 2.25-2.5 leaf stage and pasture cover being 3200 kg DM/ha. In summer when it is dry the plant only puts up small leaves (to reduce evapo-transpiration), pasture might reach the 3-leaf stage by 2200 kg DM/ha pasture cover. If pastures are at or nearing canopy closure they need to be grazed or conserved regardless of leaf stage.”
See individual Tiller Talk key farmers’ reports from last week on Farmwatch to find out about the feed situation on your local Tiller talk key farm
October update – steps to maintain pasture quality
Wet weather has made managing post-grazing residuals challenging. Farmers have done their best but pasture utilisation has been compromised for many across the country.
See individual Tiller Talk key farmers’ reports from last week on Farmwatch to find out about the feed situation on your local Tiller talk key farm.
Tips from the Tiller Talk workshops
Tiller Talk workshops started in the Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Manawatu, and Canterbury in September. While these are closed groups we’ve pulled together a summary of the days to help those facing similar conditions.
With wet weather in mind, the agronomists talked to the participant farmers about the importance of focusing on achieving post-grazing residuals of 1500-1600kg DM/ha (7-8 clicks on the rising plate meter) once conditions improve. A DairyNZ study found failure to do so will result in poor pasture quality and lower milksolids production from pasture in summer and autumn. Farmers were reminded how spring grazing management decisions have a crucial impact on the amount and quality of pasture grown later in the season. For further information, click here.
Discussion turned to how farmers were going to reset post-grazing residuals on-farm as soon as conditions improve. When post-grazing residuals are higher than target, return the cows to the paddock (or graze by other stock) until desired post-grazing residuals are achieved. Other options farmers talked about to get post-grazing residuals back on target next time round, and maintain (or restore) pasture quality included:
- make silage or baleage out of these paddocks
- consider grazing paddocks earlier than planned (watch pasture growth rates, as it is very risky to speed up rotation when growth rates are variable)
- topping behind the cows is another tactical tool that can be used to restore quality on parts of the farm.
The management of pasture surplus over the coming weeks was another topic farmers discussed.
Boost pasture production and quality
Doug Edmeades, soil scientist and managing director of agKnowledge, and Bob Longhurst, agKnowledge consultant talked to the Cambridge Tiller Talk group. Doug and Bob responded to farmers’ questions on soil fertility, clover, and N fertiliser.
Q: What are the most common nutrient deficiencies in NZ pastures?
Potassium (K) is the most common followed by sulphur (S). Potassium deficiency is widespread in pastures. Maintenance fertiliser K requirements depend on the initial soil K level. To maintain levels in the optimal range QTK 8-10 requires inputs of 75 to 150kg K/ha per year. Clover has a higher requirement than grasses for all nutrients including S. If a soil is S deficient then clover vigour and abundance will be poor. Correcting S deficiency through applying S containing fertilisers results in an increase in clover growth and production. Read more on pasture sulphur requirements.
Q: How can I visually see that my pastures are nutrient deficient?
Look at the pastures’ colour, are they yellowish looking? Are the excreta patches very obvious? Learn how to “read pastures” and compare what the soil tests say. Fully-fed pastures have a uniform colour.
As part of Tiller Talk, “Fertiliser Demonstration Plots” have been established on 13 sites across the country to display to farmers what the effects of optimal nutrient conditions on pasture look like in regard to composition, quantity and quality. The result of this demo will be summarised in a booklet describing with pictures and words about nutrient stress in pasture.
Q: Is it true that clover doesn’t like N fertiliser?
The negative impact of N fertiliser rates on clover percentage is beyond dispute, says Doug. Across multiple-year studies in Waikato and Canterbury, it was found that mean annual white clover content decreased 1% for every additional:
- 13kg N/ha above 100kg N/ha/year in Canterbury, and
- 19kg N/ha above 50kg N/ha/year in Waikato.
For more information: click here.
Doug Edmeades and Bob Longhurst reminded everyone that good knowledge of your farm soils, and strategic use of fertilisers can save valuable dollars to your business.
Check out the Farmwatch webpage to find out what’s happening on the Tiller Talk Key Farms including current rotation length, milk production, soil temperatures and fertiliser input.
Like many throughout the country, some of the Tiller Talk farmers have experienced a wet start to the season. Here’s a summary of how they have been dealing with the wet.
Upper North Island
Pasture utilisation has been a problem on-farm, as low as 40% in Northland. The focus has been on protecting pastures and using supplements to maintain rotation lengths. The plan is to get grazing residuals right back on target when conditions get drier, and maximise subsequent regrowth and pasture quality.
Farmers with feed pads have utilised these intensively to avoid making a mess at grazing. Te Awamutu farmer Dave Swney has had 120 cows on once-a-day which has taken considerable stress off during the challenging weather. Growth rates started to take off from mid-August. Looking forward, the challenge will be controlling the growth of the tall fescue and looking after perennial ryegrass to ensure good quality at subsequent grazing events.
Cows have been kept away from new grass paddocks - Markus Woutersen has been facing challenges with his new grass area, too wet to enable weed spraying or fertiliser application. This has placed significant pressure on the rest of the milking platform. The use of supplement to reduce demand from pasture has resulted in a significant lift in average pasture cover in mid-August.
Farmers are now seeing good response from the fertiliser applied in July/early August, with growth rates on the rise as soil temperatures lift. Aaron Price has started to apply the second round of Ammo30.
Lower North Island
Farmers have worked hard to avoid too much pugging damage, but pasture utilisation has been poor (Photo 1). Near Carterton, Cameron Woodhouse, is seeing per cow production going up and down depending on the weather and grass utilisation. Pasture cover is holding as growth rates increase.
The Manawatu has been dealing with very wet weather in July/ August. Kathy Craw, Rangitikei, has fully utilised the barn to stand springers and dry cows off most evenings. Older pastures have been chosen for grazing, avoiding new grass paddocks as much as possible. Kathy has managed to keep rotation length on target because of the dry cows and springers being held very tight (on baleage and hay). The springers have been grazing paddocks ear marked to go into summer crops so it is less of an issue if these paddocks get damaged.
In Taranaki, soil temperatures above 5-6 °C have made Urea and Pro-Gibb applications worthwhile (Rob Buchanan, Inglewood). Matthew Herbert, Kaponga is fully utilising the feed pad and in-shed feeding to protect pastures but this comes at a significant cost. Drier conditions have permitted cows to access the annual ryegrass paddocks, achieving high pasture utilisation. Urea has just started to kick in so increased growth rates are expected from now on.
Growth rates are finally rising but Hayden Fletcher, Culverden has been struggling with getting good growth out of some very wet paddocks. There had been extensive frost damage in mature swards (Photo 2). In mid-August, 40% of the farm area was ungrazable due to the wet conditions.
Spring appears to have come early down in Central Southland. August has been a dry month, we have had 20 mm of rain for the month to date (25 August), 60 mm behind the monthly average. Such mild and dry weather around Hedgehope had enabled fantastic grazing conditions (Photo 3) and growth rates have climbed to 30-35 kg DM/ha on Blake’s place (mid-August). Blake Korteweg’s is expecting a good response to the ammonia sulphate applied earlier in the month.
Has pugging been a big issue on the Tiller Talk farms? What actions will be taken?
Tom Buckley, Cambridge “We've been pretty lucky but a handful of paddocks will be stitched in end of August /early September”.
Matthew Oberlin-Brown, Gordonton. “I pulled the drill out of the shed on 22nd August. We have had good establishment of spring undersowing in the past. We have undersowed 8 ha of weaker paddocks, heavy peat soils. We will monitor as it comes up and assess whether to keep them or crop them”.
Robert Buchanan, Inglewood. “Considering the weather we’ve had here I'm pretty happy with how things are on our farm. We have a couple of paddocks that got a bit beat up, one was ear marked for turnips this summer so I’m not too stressed about it, and the other one will be stitched with an Italian ryegrass on 25th August”.
Blake Korteweg, Hedgehope. “I find rolling first followed by the drill once its dry and warm enough for seed germination is the best method. But if you don't roll it flat, you get very different depths of seed placement when drilling and a very average strike!”
Susan Dyer, Te Aroha. ”We plan to put some paddocks into chicory this October, and the rest we will drill into”.
Josh Cozens, Edgecumbe. “We have been extremely lucky. I rolled one small square in a paddock and another third of a paddock on 22 and 23 August. One sacrifice paddock will go into chicory. Otherwise we are pretty much unscathed”.
Markus Woutersen, Cambridge “Fortunately we have a feed pad and the girls got to know it quite well this winter. This allowed us to minimise pugging but not avoid it entirely. The worst paddocks may become maize paddocks as I'm still 2 ha short. I rolled two paddocks on 22nd August. The peat soil in general will flatten out nicely over time but more weeds may show up”.
Check out the Farmwatch webpage to find further information on what’s happening on the Tiller Talk Key Farms including current rotation length, milk production, soil temperatures and fertiliser input.
What’s happening on the Tiller Talk farms
Last month we visited each Tiller Talk key farmer with the partner agronomist. We looked at the farmer’s pasture performance goals for this season, worked out their pasture and crop eaten per hectare, and discussed key topics for the upcoming spring on-farm workshops.
The past two weeks in the Waikato have been challenging due to the very wet conditions on farm. Cows have been stood off to avoid treading damage, and supplements are being fed to the milkers to maintain a slow round and avoid creating a pasture deficit. Holding the rotation length by sticking to the Spring Rotation Planner is critical to provide adequate pasture covers later in the spring.
In other parts of the North Island, calving has started or is just about to start. Where conditions allow, fertiliser (including Urea) has been applied to boost spring pasture growth.
Calving has just begun in the Upper South Island. Average pasture covers are ranging from 2300 to 2500 kg DM/ha. The colder areas have seen no growth due to frost and snow this past month (including the Hororata and Balfour Tiller Talk farms).
You can only manage what you measure
Follow the progress of the key farms in your region, with weekly updates, as they share their pasture and farm system information throughout the season. Improve decision making on your farm by benchmarking weekly growth rates, average pasture cover (see map), grazing rotation length, fertiliser input, etc, using the local Tiller Talk key farm’s information. See the results of different management decisions year-round as these farmers work to improve the growth and utilisation of pasture.
Start monitoring pastures now! The spring rotation planner is an excellent tool to manage rotation length and help manage pasture early in the season. Set up systems to monitor pasture cover against target on your farm. Monitoring and altering the plan to keep on track is key to managing spring feed.
Find out about the latest pasture information and what’s happening on the Tiller Talk key farms page.
The Tiller Talk farmers met for the first time in May. DairyNZ pasture specialists were on hand to discuss some key aspects of pasture management that the farmers will focus on over the next year.
In June and July the big focus is to plan ahead for the rest of the season. The Tiller Talk farmers are currently considering the following.
- What am I going to do to grow and utilise as much pasture as possible this season?
- Have I got a set of decision rules developed and is the farm team aware of these?
- How much supplements will I feed this season?
Next month we’ll share some of the answers to these questions.
Key message for June
DairyNZ senior scientist Kevin Macdonald spoke to the Tiller Talk farmers about the importance of using the Spring Rotation Planner. Kevin emphasised how critical it is to monitor pasture cover and update the Spring Rotation Plan accordingly, to manage spring feed.
“If grass supply is tight at calving, go on a slow rotation and track your cover by using the Spring Rotation Planner,” says Kevin.
“To hold a very slow rotation and feed the cows to their requirements, you may need to bring in supplements and/or reduce demand (stocking rate).”
“By maintaining a slow rotation after calving, farm cover will increase more quickly as pasture growth rates aren’t compromised by grazing either too much area per day or grazing before the 3 leaf stage in the second round.”
The four pillars of successful grazing
Kevin told the group how research trials from Dairying Research Corporation No. 2 Dairy (Bryant et al.) in the 1980s identified four important system-level factors to optimise winter-spring grazing management:
Two strategic management factors:
- Calving date
- Stocking rate
Two tactical management factors:
- autumn pasture management and the ideal cover at calving
- area allocated/day during winter and the development of the Spring Rotation Planner.
For more about the research that led to the creation of the Spring Rotation Planner click here.
How are you going to manage this season?
Kevin stressed the importance of developing a set of decisions rules for your farm system for: drying off; autumn-winter grazing management; spring grazing management; summer grazing management. The table below presents examples of decision rules to achieve high performance. Note: these rules may vary with lower or higher stocking rates.
Cows graze to a consistent and even residual. If left uneven for one grazing you can restore quality by bringing cows back sooner, or mow/conserve (if necessary).
Rotation length - spring
Minimum rotation length: 18 days
Use spring rotation planner to allocate feed
Cover at calving
Have a target, e.g. 2200-2300 kg DM/ha
Need spare supplement for adverse events
Cow condition and feed cover. Need to have clear decision rules especially if summer dry
Kevin emphasised that a successful season starts with having adequate feed on the farm and cow BCS (mature cows: 5.0 and Rising 2 & 3 year-old: 5.5) at the start of calving.
Other topics covered by the Tiller Talk farmers in May included:
Pasture regrowth after grazing
A successful pasture-based system relies on growing and utilising as much grass as possible to produce as much milk as possible. Principal Scientist Dr David Chapman reminded the Tiller Talk group about the three key factors affecting pasture growth, utilisation and cow performance per hectare: pre-grazing yield, leaf stage, and post-grazing residuals. Read more
Pre-graze mowing trial
The Tiller Talk group visited the Lincoln University Research Dairy Farm which hosted a recent trial investigating the practice of pre-graze mowing pastures (November-February). The practice has recently regained interest in many parts of NZ. Some farmers have used this practice to meet target post-grazing residuals from pastures with pre-grazing covers (> 3000-3200 kg DM/ha). For results and more information click here.