Maximum pasture intake is a key profit driver on dairy farms, whether that intake is solely from grazing or a combination of grass and bought-in feed.

New Zealand dairy farmer Arthur Bryan insists good grazing management should be based on using available feed as efficiently as possible.

“Of all the inputs that contribute to a profitable business, pasture eaten a hectare has the biggest impact on farm profit, regardless of farm system,” Mr Bryan told the Positive Farmers Conference in Limerick.

He suggested it was better to feed cows less than they could eat because, by grazing hard, high quality feed was available at the next grazing.

He referred to this as “main course feeding”.

“In human terms you get your dinner, but no dessert,” he said.

One of Mr Bryan’s units on the North Island runs 227 Jersey cows producing milk from a 57ha (141-acre) grazing block.

From a young herd – none of the cows has had more than three lactations – he is achieving 1245kg/ha of milk solids at a stocking rate of 4/ha, equivalent to 313kg/MS a cow.

These figures are based on a liveweight of 370kg a cow.

He is able to stock heavily because his cows are light.

His liveweight a hectare is 1482kg, equivalent to a stocking rate of 2.5/ha when based on a traditional 600kg Friesian.

Mr Bryan maintained the optimum stocking rate for high profitability was between 80 and 90kg liveweight/t DM offered.

“A farm with too few cows will waste feed through feed being grown, but not eaten, while a farm with too many cows will waste feed through too much feed being apportioned to maintenance and not production,” he said.

He stressed the benefits of measuring pasture eaten and weight of milk solids produced per kg of liveweight.

Using these figures, performance against farms with similar grass growth potential could be benchmarked and areas for improvement identified.

fwlivestock@rbi.co.uk