See the results of different management decisions year-round as these farmers work to improve the growth and utilisation of pasture.
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.