A look at quality and quantity in pasture
from Agriculture Victoria
Pasture intake per cow depends on having high-quality pasture and enough pasture available/ha.
This is a very challenging balance in most spring conditions but is possible to achieve. Rotations lengths need to be long enough to get critical volume, and residuals need to be low enough to get quality next time the pasture is grazed.
Set aside paddocks for silage when residuals are getting higher and be cut as close as possible to grazing height (silage quality will determine production when the silage is fed).
Consider the use of nitrogen to boost pasture production and potentially minimise the use of expensive supplements.
Pasture responses of 10-20KgDM/ha for every kg of Nitrogen/ha are common in spring and represent very good value for money if you need and/or can utilise the additional feed grown.
Some paddocks may still need repairing due to pugging damage and can be rolled if soil moisture allows.
If they are badly damaged, they could be renovated with pasture or cropped depending on the paddock characteristics, farm system, location and its characteristics.
Estimate your silage and hay requirements for the coming year. Spring can be a good time to source extra feed for good quality silage. A focus on fodder quality will lead to more milk produced by cows when it’s fed.
Watch for pasture pests such as lucerne flea and consider control if you think they are damaging pasture. This may look like slower pasture growth than expected and/or a dull-looking pasture. Applications of fertiliser may significantly boost pasture and crop growth rates if your last application was in autumn.
Cash flow, budgets & cost control
A possible process to explore your break-even milk price is as follows:
Break-even milk price is total expenditure less stock sales divided by the total planned milk solid production for the farm.
It is the milk price you need to receive to have a cash break even for the year. If you have not done it yet, use opening milk prices and estimated costs to develop budgets for the year.
Looking to reduce costs where possible without compromising the system in the long term, look in areas such as:
Grain and additive price, fertiliser use and price, shed power, insurance costs, AI and joining costs, repairs and maintenance costs.
Monitor your budget as the year unfolds. This will assist with decision making and cost control as the year progresses.
Ensure you have available cash to enable good input timing in spring. To get the expected pasture and or milk response to inputs, timing of the inputs is critical; this often depends on farmers having available cash to make these inputs.
A discussion with your bank about cash flow through the season may allow improved cash flow for improved input timing.
When the margin between spring milk price and grain price is very fine or you need to get over one litre of milk as a response to a kilogram of grain to break even.
Remember, when feeding grain the last kilogram fed is likely to get the lowest marginal response in production; it’s the law of diminishing returns. In addition to this, perfect pasture management is key to higher pasture consumption of a more profitable dairy system.
Take the opportunity to feed cows as well as possible, check the margin between milk price and grain price, consider the likely milk response to feeding an extra kilogram of grain to cows to assist your decision.
Record details of any non-cycling cows or cows with calving difficulties pre-mating, and have a plan for how to deal with them. Don’t wait for the end of the mating period.
Make a decision on your mating program design to maintain calving pattern and dates.
Choose semen or bulls that will assist in developing the type of cow that suits your farm system. The efficient conversion of feed inputs into milk solids will come more easily from cows that are well bred and suit the system.
Prepare bulls for joining, Get them tested before you get them working and ensure you have enough bull power (enough bulls for your expected cows on heat after AI).
Calves should be given access to clean water, pellets and a fibre source from day one.
They can be weaned when they are eating one kg per day of pellets for two or three consecutive days. This usually occurs by about six to eight weeks of age if all is going well.
Weaned calves should weigh at least 75kg for Jerseys and 100kg for Friesians, at two to three months of age.
Spring is here, grass is growing and so are the weeds.
Ragwort, thistle and blackberry are some of this area’s most troublesome weeds.
With ragwort starting to emerge in its rosette stage now is the time to start an early control program on your property.
Ragwort can be sprayed with an appropriate herbicide right up to flowering stage, usually around January it will start flowering.
Before the flowers start to turn to seed it is prudent to remove flower heads before spraying. Bag flower heads in a black plastic bag and leave in the sun to destroy any viable seed.
Every Ragwort plant that’s seeds will disperse thousands into the surrounding area infecting not only your property but probably your neighbours as well.
Thistles are also on the move some already coming up to flowering stage, one again early control is desirable saving on herbicide use in the long term.
You can start spraying blackberry usually around November onwards. Before and up to flowering is the best time. They can be controlled right through to April bearing in mind once they fruit the birds and foxes will start spreading the seed.
And a reminder that the Catchment and Land Protection Act requires that declared noxious weeds have to be controlled or eradicated. So get onto weed control early and maintain effective follow-up weed control.