11 February 2000

NZ shows the way to grass-based profits

FEED grown, stocking rate and mean calving date are the key elements for profitable grass-based milk.

That is what Dorset milk producer Rob Studley concluded from a recent NZ study tour. He told the Positive Farmers Conference in Limerick that one researcher believed everything else was peripheral when those three factors were correct.

"Once a farm is growing grass and has the right number of cows, calving at the right time, all other factors such as rotation length and grazing pressure do not affect profit significantly." Managing cow condition was also vital, he added. In NZ the focus is on performance a hectare, because land is expensive. Feed grown a hectare, plus supplements bought in a hectare, are limiting factors, although the proportion of the feed used is the most important factor.

But NZ grass growth is affected by the same factors as in the UK. Those included soil type, fertility, drainage, rainfall, grass species and nitrogen use.

That would determine the amount of grass grown, but then there must be enough cows to eat all the grass produced, he said.

Mr Studley said that in NZ stocking rates were typically 3-3.5 cows/ha (1.2-1.4 cows/acre), but cows were lighter at 480kg. New Zealanders based their stocking rate on the number of cows the yield of grass grown a hectare can support.

But calving cows at the right time so feed demand matches pasture growth is vital, a factor often overlooked in the UK. But it is not the start of calving, or the middle of the calving period that is important, but the mean average calving date.

"Establishing the correct date for the farm requires feed budgeting and experience. If you calve too soon, you may run out of grass before the first grazing round ends. Calving too late means you are missing out on milk production from cheap spring grass."

Maximum use of spring grass requires a compact calving period, so fertility management is important, but need not be complicated, Mr Studley told delegates.

"From calving to three or four weeks before mating, the pressure is put on and cows are grazed tightly. Then cows are flushed on high quality grass. Although the first cows to calve have the biggest feed deficit, they also have longer to cycle."

Mr Studley has now decided that setting up a simple system without delay will help improve production efficiency on his farm, where he runs 100 cows on 40ha (100 acres).

"Last year, the herd calved in spring for the first time. We have lost money in the past two years by not putting our grazing system in place, but we will speed up our conversion this year.

"A year ago I was still nervous about whether it would work. Now we have more confidence." &#42

PROFIT ELEMENTS

&#8226 Amount of feed grown.

&#8226 Stocking rate.

&#8226 Mean calving date.

Calving cows to ensure demand for grass matches pasture growth is vital, says Rob Studley.