with Peter Burton
Functional Fertiliser Ltd
Doing stuff, particularly for practical people, is the easiest and most satisfying part of the farming process. It’s the planning bit that takes the real effort, and in many instances planning is not well done, with the big picture always remaining somewhat murky.
What will the efficient farm of 2020 look like? Will the priority still be total number of animals, or will some other factor have become the focus?
At present, the most commonly used model is based on feeding and managing a certain number of animals, with those with the most animals per hectare, often described as ‘stocking rate’, seen as the most successful.
Are those with the most animals those with the most satisfying, stress-free operations? And most importantly, do they enjoy the greatest financial surplus at the end of the year, with the time to enjoy spending it?
We’ve evolved from a society that’s applauded diligent, focussed, and at times frantic activity, regardless of outcome, and fortunately that is starting to change.
Our team works closely with farmers who like to look at their farming operations a little differently. They’ve replaced the dominant ‘head-down, tail-up’ mentality with activity targeted toward achieving some very specific outcomes, and at the top of the list is maximising pasture growth.
There’s a tipping point on every farm where even a few extra animals means systems don’t quite cope, with a downward spiral in efficiency, an increase in costs and a subsequent lack of enjoyment.
The reason for the rapid growth in the PKE industry has been the inability to fully feed animals on the pasture grown, and in September that system will change as Fonterra penalises farmers producing milk with excess PKE content.
If there’s too little pasture to satisfy demand, and other bought-in feed is too expensive, the only immediate option is a reduction in animal numbers. That alone usually means a lift in milk solid production, as less feed is required for animal maintenance and more tucker is therefore available for production.
It also reduces the pressure on monthly pasture production, as higher pasture residuals means more rapid recovery after grazing, which results in more flexible management, important as pasture growth is dictated by longer cycle seasonal changes.
The requirement for short term manipulation of pasture growth by applying nitrogen decreases, allowing clovers to dominate during summer, fixing the nitrogen required for autumn and early winter growth.
Clover, being higher in calcium and more digestible than grass, is the ideal feed for summer production, and animals well fed on clover-rich pasture are able to produce at high levels and maintain, and even gain, weight.
Where recommended soil fertility inputs are geared to maximise clover growth, attack by flea and weevil is minimised and of no real consequence, with bloat seldom a concern and easily managed. Total annual pasture production lifts with more rapid recovery of pasture after the inevitable summer dry spell.
Summer provides the ideal opportunity to reduce animal numbers, and autumn the ideal time to make fundamental changes to soil fertility. Any production lost by drying off even a fortnight earlier than usual, will be more than regained by better fed animals on higher covers in spring. For more information call Peter on: 0800 843 809.