Priorities for the next month

Published 10 April 15

It has been a slow start to the season for grass growth and for many the pinch of having to feed more supplement to counteract the slow growth on a low milk price is hard, but it looks like spring is finally here, says LIC Pasture to Profit Consultant Sarah Payne.

Even though the grass has been slow to fire, milk production has not. The flow on effects of having cows in better condition at calving, and greater stores of supplement on hand, has meant that individual cow production on a daily basis is on target for some great records. During low milk price years we need to focus on optimising milk production from pasture to keep costs tight!

Soil temperatures are now reaching double digits and growth rates are hitting more than 50kg DM/ha on a daily basis. This has the potential to turn average farm covers around very quickly.

Now is not the time to take your foot off the accelerator though. Magic Day (where grass growth exceeds demand) is looming and this is an opportunity not to be missed. To ensure the farm is well set up for the rest of the season, you need to be targeting to hit your lowest average farm cover and quickest round length (effective milking area/area grazing in 24 hours) at or around Magic Day.

Target farm covers should be between 1,800-1,900kg DM/ha and round lengths between 18-21 days. Do not go below these values as pasture intakes and growth rates will be heavily impacted – the ‘death spiral’. However, by achieving these targets, residuals will be achieved, the farm will be ‘cleaned out’, maximise pasture quality for next round will be achieved and cow pasture intakes will also be optimised.

Farm walks are critical for the next month, understanding where the pasture cover and growth rates are for your farm will help you to make accurate and timely decisions around feeding levels, supplement use and surplus management.

Considerations for the next month:

  • Getting baby calves to grass – pasture quality currently is far higher than any silage available. For those who have secure calf fields, the sooner you can get calves to grass the better their growth rates. Ensure they still have access to milk/water, good quality hay/straw and concentrate until they are eating a high percentage of pasture.
  • Nitrogen and sulphur use – sulphur is an important nutrient that is readily lost through the soil profile during winter months. It is more than likely that most grazing farms will have a sulphur deficiency coming out of the wet months. Each farm will be different but in general 25-45kg S/ha is required for annual maintenance (depending on soil type and stocking rate). Nitrogen use now is also very important to continue to encourage growth rates, applications of Urea at 30-45kg N/ha (65-100kg urea/ha or 26-40kg/acre) behind the cows will maximise pasture growth. For more information on the use of Urea vs CAN click here.
  • Setting up for mating – Take the time, now calving is almost over, to sit down and plan for the coming breeding season. Consider the following eight key areas when deciding on a plan: Calving pattern, heifer management, nutrition and condition, heat detection, service bulls, AI and genetics, non-cyclers and cow health.
  • Bulling heifers – Now is the time to set these animals up for life, ensure they are on target to achieve 60% of their mature liveweight for bulling. Are they in good condition? Receiving high quality feed? Being monitored?
  • Staff – Long winter days and calving can be very tiring and hard work for staff. Take the time when the main calving is over to sit down with your people and debrief them. Discuss the plan for the rest of the season and their role within that plan. Ensure rosters are updated and they get a good break, especially for the block calving herds about to start serving - you do not want tired/run down staff at the start of breeding. This goes for managers and employers also, where possible book some time off to refresh and catch your breath.
  • Residuals – These are critical! Focus on achieving an even, consistent residual – you should be able to see a golf ball in the field. Your expectations of cows consumption now sets down the foundations for the rest of the season. Start the grazing season as you intend to finish. Remember residuals will slowly lift later in the season but the better they are now the easier it will be to maintain good residuals for as long as possible.