The farms are in Canterbury’s Pendarves district, with three properties averaging 190ha and the fourth at 122ha.
One tool they apply across all four properties is the Spring Rotation Planner, which plays a vital role in helping optimise grass use, keep supplements out of spring feed intake and therefore feed costs to a minimum.
“You could probably throw a blanket across the four properties in terms of their similarity. But having properties that are similar is by no means a pre-requisite for allocating grass over spring time. The principles of planning for spring are pretty much the same, regardless of where you are farming,” says Greg.
Planning for spring feed allocation is dictated by the area the Spring Rotation Planner allocates starting from the planned start of calving date until balance date, when feed consumed equals feed grown.
However, the Roadleys start in autumn of the season before with a plan that determines what the end point cover on balance date will be.
“We develop our autumn feed budget with our staff to plan for drying off to meet a target average cover that we want to have at balance day, which is 2000kg DM a hectare. We aim to effectively set a grass supply curve all the way through to balance day, in the first week of October.”
System to maximise grass
The average pasture cover target is based on a system aimed to maximise grass utilisation, with no spring supplement allowance built into it.
The average autumn cover is monitored weekly and once that average target is hit, it determines the drying off date. Winter has all the cows grazing on support blocks, returning for calving between July 21 and August 15.
Greg finds using the Spring Rotation Planner provides a second plank of budgeting certainty to the farms’ feed supply.
“We already have very good data on what grass supply is from late spring through to drying off. Based off irrigation data, rainfall and historical growth rates, we can predict very accurately what the supply will be through then,” says Greg.
“Having the planning in autumn and the Spring Rotation Planner to allocate feed through calving gives us the information we need for the other part of the season, so we know we’re getting the most out of our grass supply through the whole year.”
The planner’s allocation for grazing area kicks off from the planned start of calving on a 100-day round, aiming for a 20-day round at balance date in the first week in October. By that time, the targeted 2000kg DM/ha cover is being reached.
“We are starting to hit maximum growth by that point and trying to harvest as much energy as we can from the grass allocated.”
Farm systems focus on pasture
He categorises the farms as system three, based on providing no externally grown supplement but allowing for wintering off on support blocks.
Supplement may be fed in autumn to extend days in milk but only if there is a real price advantage and “certainly not when the payout is under $5.50/kg MS”.
Farm cover is assessed visually at least once a week over spring by Greg’s staff doing farm walks and entering the cover into a spreadsheet. The Spring Rotation Planner's allocated area is recorded daily on the spreadsheet in the farm dairy’s computer.
“So on any particular day they all know how many hectares they have got through, how many hectares they have in front of them and the average cover at that point.”
Having those two metrics identified and visible means it is easy to see if any particular farm is drifting from the planner’s target.
“Our typical response – if we are drifting off-target with more area being allocated than was planned for – would be to ensure the residuals are not too high. If so, we can tighten up the allocated area to bring it back on target.”
Feeding supplement is the last option Greg would reach for as they work hard to minimise feed costs.
“That would only be used if we had a prolonged period where they were short, maybe due to snow conditions, and there is a real risk of weight loss occurring.”
How low should cover go
Greg acknowledges the balance date target average cover of 2000kg DM/ha is lower than most people would want to go.
“You do have to watch it, the lower cover can mean there is a greater risk you are underfeeding your cows.”
For Greg, the Spring Rotation Planner is a formalised version of the area allocation principles he has used most of his farming career.
Previously he would have based the allocation on square metres per cow per day. He finds his staff understand the concept well and clear communication via the daily updates are excellent for keeping everyone informed on progress and keeping junior staff tuned in to where feed cover is heading.
“The staff like the fact we run a really simple grass-focused system. They don’t have to worry about feeding out continuously and they have more time then to really monitor and understand grass growth.”
Spring management principles
Spring feed allocation is dictated by the area the Spring Rotation Planner allocates from the planned start of calving date until balance date.
A plan that projects through to what the end point cover on balance date will be is started in autumn the season before.
The autumn feed budget is done with staff to plan for drying off to a target average pasture cover at balance date, which is 2000kg DM/ha.
The planner’s allocation for area starts from the planned start of calving on a 100-day round, aiming at balance date in the first week in October. By that time, the targeted 2000kg DM/ha cover is being reached and the herds will be on a 20-day round.
This article was originally published in Inside Dairy August 2016