“Last spring was the first time we have never run out of grass, and by far the most grass we have ever had,” says Joseph of his first year of implementing the Spring Rotation Planner (SRP) on his farm.
An extra one tonne of dry matter per hectare (1t DM/ha) of pasture was harvested from the start of calving (late June) to the end of November by following the SRP. At a value of $330/ha, this translated to a total value of $32,000 from the additional pasture alone.
Pasture first focus
Attending his local discussion group helped Joseph identify a problem on his farm where a significant amount of cost savings could be gained. He recognised his residuals were too long and he was focusing on supplement fed rather than pasture fed.
Recruiting the help of his DairyNZ consulting officer Jamie Haultain, Joseph took action to improve his pasture management.
At a discussion group last October, Jamie stepped the group through the spring grazing management paddock guide, helping everyone review their residuals, identify if they were leaving too much grass behind and if there was an opportunity to reduce the amount of supplement fed.
“The farm I’m on has historically never had a surplus at any time of the year,” says Joseph, “so it was an obvious area for improvement.”
Signing up for a one-on-one spring feed review visit that DairyNZ offered last year as part of the Tactics campaign was an easy decision for Joseph.
“I was really keen to learn how the rotation length through winter could set up our spring pasture.”
|Value of focus on pasture management June-Nov 2016|
|Value of additional pasture harvested||$32,000|
|Value/ha of additiional pasture harvested||$330|
|Cost saving in supplement||$22,000|
Jamie took Joseph through each step of the SRP. To ensure high pasture covers remain in front of the cows during calving, the SRP sets a slow round length in the winter.
As the cows calve, this high average pasture cover is harvested by controlling how fast the round length is sped up.
“Not speeding up the round too early is key to ensuring you don't run out of grass before the spring flush,” says Jamie.
“Running out of grass before the spring flush restricts growth rates through the rest of spring.”
Spring Rotation Planner in action
Using the SRP resulted in the first season the farm had not run out of grass. Having filled out the SRP with Jamie, Joseph followed the area to feed the herd each day very closely.
“I calculated the amount of feed the cows were getting from their allocated area per day and topped them up with maize or PKE to give them their required daily intake,” says Joseph.
To calculate daily intakes of grass, each paddock was measured with a plate meter as the cows went in, and measured again after they went out.
“I bought a plate meter straight after Jamie’s visit. Previously I had simply calculated how much supplement I could give them and topped them up with grass.
“Working with Jamie to plan my grazing and rotation length through the SRP turned my focus to pasture first, rather than relying on supplement.
“Before I started using the SRP, my round length got too fast too quick (25 days in early August) and I would suddenly run out of grass and have to increase the amount of supplement fed.”
Reducing reliance on supplement
Having confidence that cows were going to be well fed on adequate pasture gave Joseph the ability to reduce the amount of supplement fed.
“For the first time in four years I dropped PKE out completely,” says Joseph. “This alone was a cost saving of $22,000.
“This year I’ve dropped out PKE and I’m using maize as the only supplement fed.”
Building on success
The value from the first year of using the SRP will increase each year as Joseph builds his pasture management skills and executes decisions better.
“I now understand the importance of monitoring average cover for the whole farm as well as allocated daily area to make sure these are lining up,” says Joseph.
“That way, I can change the balance date depending on conditions. Not adjusting the balance date on the rotation planner can mean you speed up too early in a late spring and run out of grass, or take too long to speed up and have leaves on the plant go to waste.”
This article was originally published in Inside Dairy October 2016