Olin and Anna moved to their current 50:50 sharemilking position in Clevedon, southeast Auckland, in June 2013. They focus on running a low cost, pasture first, system.
“Our aim is to grow and utilise as much pasture as possible and convert it into milk as efficiently as possible,” says Olin. “Supplementary feeding is only used during times of genuine deficit.”
Pasture growth in southeast Auckland has been more challenging with the mix of peat and clay soils compared to their previous Waikato location. Last season they utilised 12t dry matter (DM). This season, with a drought-free summer, they have increased this to 13t DM.
“Annually we’re growing two to three t DM/ha less in comparison to on our previous farm in Eureka. It’s resulted in slightly less milksolids (MS)/ha, therefore leading to slightly higher farm working expenses (FWE)/kg MS, which this season have been $1.90/kg MS.”
Feed grown on farm includes summer turnip and maize, with each crop planted on four percent of the farm (14ha in crop).
Total bought in feed during pasture deficits is 400kg/cow in the form of grass silage, which is used primarily from February to May in a typical dry summer. With this season’s favourable climate, none of the bought in feed this year had to be used. This will be carried over to next season resulting in a positive impact on next season’s cashflow.
The Greenans found that keeping with a low input system during the 2013-14 season’s high milk price made it much easier to keep costs in check for the drop that followed.
“We didn’t have to make any major alterations to our farming system and had the ability to withstand reduced margins. We quickly realised that ‘standing still’ was an achievement. We didn’t need to get any extra working capital and still had the ability to meet our existing debt payment requirements,” says Olin.
“My heart and soul knew it was the right system to run, even when the milk price was high. We’re not chasing per cow production. The focus is on running a low cost system and that’s what has got us through.”
Olin acknowledges that developing that confidence in your decisions is helped by experience and success.
“Farmers new to the industry can also tap into mentors and industry groups for support – there’s heaps out there.
“The downturn is an opportunity for farmers to reset their business and focus on New Zealand’s competitive advantage – growing pasture.
Pasture management focus
Having a set of key trigger points to base decisions on is Olin’s key advice for ensuring good pasture management.
The spring rotation planner is a key tool for the farm for managing pasture and is used from start of calving to balance day.
They aim for 2300kg DM/ha pasture cover at June 1 and 1900kg DM/ha average pasture cover at balance day.
Their rotation round is currently 55 days and they aim for a 30 day round by Christmas.
“A farm walk is completed every seven to ten days and a feed wedge is used to guide decision making,” says Olin.
“Using the feed wedge has been very useful for staff. With target pre-grazing cover calculated, the wedge easily identifies any grass surplus of deficit. The visual overview of pasture available allows us to be proactive and take action sooner rather than later. It also provides another form of discipline to ensure we are hitting post grazing residuals.”
Genuine pasture surplus is removed as silage, and timely applications of nitrogen are made when conditions are suitable.
Being disciplined around residuals is also a key focus on the farm. Residuals are 1500kg DM/ha during spring and cows are put back into paddocks until that is reached.
“You have to be prepared to put in the extra effort – shifting cows when needed and putting extra reels up.
“Sharing your philosophy and thought process with staff is also really important so they know the ‘why’ behind the actions and so that you’re all working towards the same outcome.”
“Improved pasture management, can mean better quality feed, adding value to the milk produced.
Deciding when to dry off starts with a discussion between the Greenan’s and farm owners.
“Aiming for a body condition score (BCS) of five at calving is one of the trigger points for dry off date,” says Olin.
“Autumn condition scoring in conjunction with individual calving dates allows a plan of action to be drawn up.”
Calving date is July 12, with 50 percent of the herd calved in 13 days. Olin is proud of his six week in-calf rate of 80 percent, which was achieved on an all-grass diet. He used CIDRs on five percent of the herd.
“The key is having cows calve at BCS five and managing pasture carefully through early spring to ensure you have adequate high ME pasture available to feed the cows during mating.”