Over 200 farmers and rural professionals turned up for a third Farm Focus Day at Owl Farm this week to take part in sessions dealing with topics relevant right now to the struggling dairy industry.
Visitors to the St Peter’s School and Lincoln University Demonstration Dairy Farm in Cambridge heard from Demonstration Manager Doug Dibley about the farm’s season-to-date performance, and related ideas for improving performance in a poor payout year.
“Like most Waikato Farms,” says Doug, “Owl Farm has felt the impact of a cold and wet July and August, which has led to much lower average pasture growth rates than anticipated. Production for the season is currently three percent down on the previous season.”
Doug reported that Owl Farm is currently primed to capitalise on better growing conditions, which are expected to occur sooner rather than later, at which point managing pasture quality will become the number one priority. “The cows have recently just hit an average of 2kgMS/cow/day and we are hoping to hold them at this level longer to re-capture some of the lost production.”
Farmers at the Focus Day were surveyed around their priorities in low payout seasons. Sixty percent said they focus attention on cost of production rather than increasing pasture harvested per hectare. When asked about actions undertaken on farm to reduce financial impact, indications were of slightly fewer cows being milked than last season and less spending on capital fertiliser.
While half of those surveyed hadn’t reduced costs, others said they will be buying less supplement in than last season. Nearly half indicated that their summer cropping regime would remain the same this year. Others indicated it would increase as a result of less available brought-in feed.
Several farm strategies were modelled against Owl Farm’s existing system to understand the financial implications. These included early culling of stock before the summer dry and once again after pregnancy testing, once a day milking for the entire herd from the end of September, and keeping calves at home.
The modelling suggested that drying off 100 heifers and lighter cows at the beginning of February was the most financially viable option at this point, as supplements would be more efficiently used to produce milk with dry cows’ feed requirements being significantly lower. Doug says it’s too early in the season to make the call on which strategies Owl Farm will be implementing. “But it’s crucial to have options available if and when the circumstances dictate.”
DairyNZ’s farm systems specialist Chris Glassey, and scientist Julia Lee, spoke of the financial benefits of good spring grazing management, and the importance of achieving desired post graze residuals to ensure pasture quality remains high. Julia and Chris explained how to identify what leaf stage a plant is at and how to change management to suit.
Veterinary nutritionist Charlotte Westwood, and agronomist Emma Bell from PGG Wrightson Seeds, addressed the question of summer cropping, and the different types of summer crops available. Owl Farm’s summer cropping is focused on Chicory. Doug says, “Poor pastures which aren’t on heavier soils appropriate for chicory are going to be sprayed for weeds in spring and under sown in autumn. A project is going to be undertaken over the summer whereby the chicory is regularly cut and dried to identify how many kgDM are grown per hectare, and this information will be presented by a student at the March focus day next year”.
The next Farm Focus Day at Owl Farm takes place on 25 November 2015.