Dairy farmers have been brainwashed by feed companies into believing grass is worth little and is too dangerous to eat, reports New Zealand consulting officer
Mark Blackwell, who visited the UK last year
FAVOURABLE milk price to purchased feed price ratio allows almost any feed available to be used profitably on UK dairy farms.
This complicates overall feed management. Dairy farmers are distracted from grass by other issues, such as milk quotas, IACS, and feed company sales pressure. These all contribute to ensure grazed grass is an undervalued feed.
Grass planning skills are undeveloped and the fundamental principles of grass growth and use are poorly understood. Education about these matters appears non-existent in the colleges.
Farmers are unaccustomed to talking about grazing management. This is also lacking among consultancy groups.
Emphasis on sward height targets and set-stocking denies producers the means to communicate about grass in terms of its growth rate, and the cows grass dry matter intake.
Yet while milk prices are high there is scope for farmers to take high profits out of grazed grass. Emphasis must be on improving grassland efficiency, substituting grazed grass when a more expensive feed is being used, and growing more grass and perhaps clover, especially outside the peak of the growing season.
Education and training is required to help farmers realise the potential they have in these areas.
Genus Management studies of UK farm profitability have shown that the top farmers focused on increased profitability and the bottom performers on maximising yield a cow.
Top farmers do make high profits from their businesses. They do it through control of variable costs and minimising fixed overheads. A far higher proportion of their feed comes from forage – feed that is grown on the farm rather than purchased. They make better use of controlled grazing systems. Bottom farmers, meanwhile, have a misplaced belief that if you chase high yields you automatically get high profits.
New Zealand consultant Mark Blackwell… Dont overlook the advantages of grazing.
• Grassland management often comes second place to other management issues, such as silage and concentrate feeding.
• Perception that todays high genetic merit cow has an irreconcilable problem achieving high yields when grazing.
• Farm infrastructure supporting grazing – tracks, gateways and water supplies – is a major deficiency on many farms.
• Labour is specialised into owner, herdsman, tractor driver. Who is the grass manager?
• Mechanisation culture tends to throw money at problems rather than think of an inexpensive solution.
• Consultant work is one-to-one with farmers, and directly charged for.
• Feed companies supply free advice to generally support their own products.
• There is no extension service funded by the dairy industry focused on meeting farmers needs.
• There is overemphasis on performance indicators such as margins over purchased feed and a lack of practical on-farm research.