For New Zealand dairy farmers, the number-one driver of profit is homegrown feed eaten. Twelve years of DairyBase data shows us that every extra tonne of homegrown dry matter (DM) eaten per hectare (ha) is worth $300 per ha in operating profit.
To increase your farm’s potential profit, you need to increase your homegrown feed eaten, increase your homegrown feed grown, or both. In this article we’ll focus on the options to increase homegrown feed grown:
- Improve pasture DM production through pasture renewal.
- Use crops to fill feed deficits (summer or winter) when pastures don’t grow.
Both these options cost time and money, so you’ll need to give them careful consideration. When deciding whether to renew pasture or plant crops, ask yourself 'why?' Is it to:
- fix underlying causes of low pasture production?
- shift a surplus from spring to summer?
- fill a feed gap in summer or winter?
- use forages to meet environment goals?
If you’ve decided you need to improve pasture DM production through pasture renewal, or use crops to fill feed deficits, it’s time to make a plan.
- Select paddocks
Use pasture records* to assess which paddocks to crop or renew, based on one of the following:
- Paddocks with lowest annual pasture yield.
- Paddocks with least number of grazings, averaged by size.
- Paddock soil fertility and cropping history.
- Distance from the farm dairy, if planning to graze with milking cows.
*If records are unavailable, use DairyNZ’s Pasture Condition Score Tool
- Manage a feed deficit
Think about how you’ll manage a potential spring feed pinch with paddocks taken out of the rotation to re-grass or plant into crops. Get some tips at dairynz.co.nz/feed-budgets
- Pick the right mix
Consider pasture and crop options that best meet your 'why?' – see next page.
Check that your mix of homegrown feeds meets the nutritional requirements of your cows (milking or dry) – go to dairynz.co.nz/nutrition
- Choose an establishment method
The method you select will depend on your answer to the ‘why?’ but it’ll be one of these:
- Oversow – less expensive, quicker to graze than direct drilling or cultivation, but can have poorer yield.
- Direct drilling – less expensive, less time-consuming, less nitrogen leaching, retains soil moisture and quicker to graze than cultivation, but can have poorer yield if not done well.
- Cultivation – gives the most consistent results through weed and pest control, reduces compaction, and offers good soil coverage of seed; but is expensive, slower to graze and can lead to higher nitrogen leaching.
This article was originally published in Inside Dairy September 2019