Factors Affecting Profitable Pasture Based Dairy Farming
By John Moor
Many farms I work on have adopted a system the best suites the people and not the plants or the cows, this is back to front if you want to be profitable!!
- All year round calving. Higher degree of management needed all year round, does not easily match feed production.
- Dual season calving: 60% spring/40% autumn. High degree of management at certain times of the year, matches Kikuyu over sow feed production perfectly.
- Single season calving all into spring. High degree of management in concentrated times of the year. Matches spring/summer ryegrass systems well. NZ.
- TMR or total mixed ration where all or most of the food is brought to the cow either in or out doors.
Kikuyu over sow/perennial rye grass/annual rye grass or a combination.
Pasture production, pasture utilization and the appropriate production system are the 3 most important drivers of profit in a pasture based dairy farming business.
These 3 factors are often the least understood in many cases.
Leaf emergence rates(LER) and leaf growth rates(LGR) of different species, grazing rounds, rest periods required for maximum production and root recovery, optimum defoliation per graze and nutrient requirement are some of the key elements a good manager needs to know to optimize the pastures at his disposal. “If you don’t measure you can’t manage”
At planting attention must be focused on the ingoing pasture at the expense of the senescing pasture. Planting should ideally be done in a 30 to 40 day rotation behind the cows starting in mid/late autumn (March), sometimes the kikuyu needs to be set back chemically(less preferable) or mechanically to establish a good strike. This needs to be managed during the grazing round before the planting round. Slugs and worms can decimate a new planting if not controlled.
- Single species pastures and clovers: (mono culture) Easy to manage , higher risk of failure, lower year round feed value, poor soil conditioning, low soil mineral cycling, less nutrient diversity.
- Multi Species up to 20 different plant types Complex to manage, lower risk of failure, high year round feed value and volume, excellent soil conditioning and mineral cycling. Higher nutrient density for cows = higher production, biological diversity.
- Silage crops Planted for winter or gap feeding should be planted as early as possible in spring and the same area over sown immediately after removal with an annual rye grass pasture mix. (ie. Double crop the area for additional winter feed)
As the saying goes, businesses never fail, management fails the business.
As the number of cows in a production system increase so does the pressure on water supply, lane ways and management. Tipping points usually occur when farms go through the 100 cow, 300 cow, 550 cow and 750 cow herd, structural changes are normally needed to sustain the bigger numbers. Management normally goes first!!
Record keeping is a critical element in successful dairy farming. It will allow you to detect trends in production and management. If you don’t measure it how can you manage it is a good guide line to follow. Rainfall records are a good example, they are useless in the recorded form (history) but become very useful as a management tool when converted to an annual average rolling rain fall or DM grown per 100mm.
Water supply and lane-ways:
Water supply and quality is more important than trough space and should flow at no less than 1L/second into a 1200L water point or half a litre a second into 2 water points. Cows generally will drink in groups of 7 if not stressed provided they know that the water will not run out on them. Cow psychology is very real.
Lane ways should be made of material that the manager/owner can easily walk over bare footed and the cows do not select a single track. Ideally 5/ 6m wide and free of standing water. (ie. The drain should be on the outside of the laneway fence). Subclinical lameness can easily reduce a cow’s lactation by 30%.
Cow size, breed and condition scores:
As cow size increases so do their maintenance requirements and costs. Most dairy cows will eat 3 to 3 and a half % of their body mass in feed a day on a DM basis. Depending how much is needed for maintenance the balance will go to growth and milk production. For most pasture based production systems cows with medium to smaller frames are often more profitable depending on a range of factors (eg, milk solids, milk yield, how milk is valued by buyer, slaughter values etc). Its pointless feeding a high genetic merit cow poor feed and expecting high production.
Cow condition (body score) at different times during their lactation and pregnancy has a direct correlation to the individual cow’s production, conception and profitability. If management fails to get this correct it will not be able to be recovered economically in that lactation. This often overlooked requirement of the dairy cow is easily addressed with correct feeding of protein and energy at critical times.
Machinery and equipment:
Most dairy farms I go onto have far too much machinery that burden the system with depreciation and maintenance costs. Contracting out of bulk work is time and cost efficient in most cases.
Basic requirements: 100 to 500 cow dairy
- Seed drill.
- Aerator. Yeoman or similar.
- Spray boom tanker.
- 1 x 4WD tractor 75kw+ loader.
- 1x 4wd tractor 55kw + loader
- 1x tractor drawn trailer.
- Fertilizer spreader.
- Slurry tank spreader.(shared)
- 1x quad bike.
- 1x ute.
Strategic change management:
An easily overlooked aspect of a successful dairy business is the ability of the manager or management to implement CHANGE effectively and in time to remain profitable. The adoption of new opportunities, technologies and information is what sets good businesses apart from great businesses…
How you scan for and identify these opportunities will depend on the manager’s ability to look at his business from a strategic point of view on a regular basis.
Over the past 10 years I have both mentored and coached dairy and beef farmers to adopt some or all of the strategies described in this document to significantly improve their businesses and to bring the fun back into farming.
For further information or to arrange a consultation please feel free to contact me