Increasing supply or reducing demand

Published 19 July 13

Alicia Newport from LIC talks about increasing supply or reducing demand for increasingly sparse grass growth.

In the past 15 months we have seen almost every extreme in weather in this country. Twice the annual rainfall in some areas, snow the last week of March and a winter that never ended. Now to back it up we are heading into the driest summer the country has seen for seven years.

Grass growth rates across the country have plummeted in the last 2-3 weeks. We have seen areas drop from growths of 70kg DM/ha/day to 25kg in one week. In Somerset at a discussion group this week, half the farmers had growth rates less than 20kg DM/ha/day. Growth rates are dropping quickly and with no rain on the horizon, it’s going to be at least two weeks until we see them going back up again.

As a grazing farmer, there are some key principles that you can follow to help your farm get through this period, with minimal cost and maximum milk production.

Make sure you extend your round length. About 30-36 days is optimal at this time of year. Even with a decent growth rate for last week, it is worth doing (and easier while you still have pasture) as growth is falling.

As leaf emergence occurs every 10-12 days in the summer there is little to be gained in having rotation lengths longer than 30-36 days. Having a shorter round length will mean you are getting to the plant before the 2.5/3 leave stage, and you will miss out on growth opportunities.

In very hot, dry conditions, ryegrass goes dormant with a reduction in leaf area and pre-grazing covers (covers do not get higher than 14 clicks on the RPM). Therefore, there is no advantage to rotation lengths longer than 36 days. Pasture quality will decline as the length of the rotation increases.

After you have extended the round, the two options to get you through both relate to increasing supply or reducing demand.

Increase supply

The two main options here are to purchase feed, feed stored feed, or graze back into any paddocks still shut up for silage. As winter stocks are generally low, you need to plan if you are eating in to these stocks as you will need to find something to replace them.

If you are in a position of being forced to feed silage due to poor growth, first make sure that any fields shut up for silage are grazed off first. You will still have a similar amount of stored feed, and most grass is still higher quality when compared witho silage. This means milk production will be less affected, harvesting costs lowered and effort of feeding silage minimised.

Reduce demand

If the dry conditions continue you may need to look at options to get other animals off the pasture. Do you have an area down the road you can shift youngstock to? Are there animals about to be dried off which can be dried sooner and taken off the milking platform?

Towards the end of lactation, a cow becomes less efficient – it takes more feed to produce a litre of milk than if she’s approaching her peak. If you are short of feed, the energy going into any of these animals would produce more milk across the cows which are at their peak lactation.

In summary:

  • Know your situation, what are you growing, feed available and farm cover
  • Extend the round to 30-36 days
  • Review your options to increase supply and reduce demand
  • Complete a feed plan to ensure you are prepared for winter