19 August 1997

NZ techniques are way to cut production cost

NEW Zealand ideas about grass management have revolutionised the milk production system at JG Quicke and Partners 360-cow dairy herd, part of a 607ha (1500-acre) mixed business making farmhouse cheddar cheese at Newton St Cyres, Devon.

Emphasis on milk from grazed grass has already cut 2.5p/litre off production costs and the plan is for New Zealand grazing techniques to cut production costs a litre further still.

Previously the herd was run on a higher input/output system, and although high yields were achieved off forage, this was mainly conserved.

Partnership chairman, Mary Quicke, believes increasing grazed grass in the diet is the key to producing a lower cost litre and her plan is to increase the 15-20% of the diet as grazed grass to 40%. Having only 77ha (190 acres) accessible to the cows, and a stocking rate of 2.9 LSU/ha, is the main constraint to increasing grass use above her target 40%, she told 150 farmers at a farm walk last week.

Ms Quicke and her herdsman, Richard Griffiths, are the first to acknowledge that theirs has been a steep learning curve and their low cost route has only just begun. Both admit to making mistakes, but the benefits from adopting a New Zealand approach are tangible.

Silage use fell from 13t to 9t a cow last year, and there is 1000t of silage in stock. Turnout in March was six weeks earlier this year. "We have grown more grass since we switched from set stocking to paddock grazing," said Ms Quicke. That helps grow more grass by ensuring cows are not grazing any area for more than one day at a time, and that they are not entering paddocks with less than 3000kg/ha DM grass cover to give each sufficient time to regrow.

A New Zealand rising plate meter has helped monitor grass availability and also highlighted fields of low productivity which have been reseeded.

Temporary roadways and tracks have been built to improve access to the grass area which is also paddocked. "Nothing has to be too expensive or permanent," said Mr Griffiths.

Cows are averaging 6723 litres with 3818 litres off forage. Income is 28.2p/litre, with variable costs at 7.2p/litre, and fixed costs at 10p/litre to leave 6.1p/litre profit after depreciation.

Ideas for improving profit further included fine-tuning the current system and continuing to increase % of the diet from grass, single block calving, aiming for 70% from grazing using available acres and stocking accordingly, or bringing in more arable acres currently on the other side of a busy main road.

Irish dairy farmer, and pioneer in NZ grazing techniques, Michael Murphy, suggested the farm profits were only half what they could be, with concentrate, wage, forage and depreciation costs particularly high.

"There is still huge scope to improve profits, irrespective of which option is chosen," he said.

For the short term, running 250 spring calved cows would be the most profitable way forward, aiming to acheive 70% of diet from grazing. "This will be simple to get up and running and you will make 12p/litre profit," he said.

"With the quality of the land and attitude of the manager there is nothing limiting the farm securing 17p/litre profit at current milk prices, but it will take three to four years before those financial benefits are seen." &#42

Mary Quicke is convinced grazed grass is the key to reducing costs. It had lifted profits on her farm and there was further scope to improve profit.