Matching Breeding Goals & Pasture Growth for Increased Productivity
Pasture is still the major input on most Australian dairy farms in 2020. However, pasture as a percentage of the cow’s total diet has been declining over the past 20 years. It is no surprise to see that productivity growth in the industry has averaged 0% over the ten-year period to 2017-18 (Measurement of profitability on Australian dairy farms. Australian Dairy Plan February 2020).
Productivity growth refers to an increase in the value of total outputs for a given level of inputs over a specified period. It is important to note that increased productivity is not the same as simply increasing production. Productivity is about efficiency.
At the recent 2020 Dairy Research Foundation Symposium, the opening speaker, Professor Bill Malcolm was asked to give his reasons as to why productivity growth had stagnated. Bill replied by saying “productivity growth will occur if we aim to maximise milk solids produced from your farming system by maximising home-grown pasture consumption from your fixed assets (land). We need to produce as many kilograms of milk solids as we can up to the point where the income from the last kilogram of milk solids just equals the additional costs of producing it. Research and development and pasture/animal genetics will not drive productivity on their own”.
We must recognise that there are many farming systems across Australia, however for those dairy farmers running pasture-based systems, how do we realign pasture demand and growth? Is it possible to revert to a seasonal calving strategy? And could this lead to greater on farm efficiencies and ultimately drive productivity growth?
NSW dairy farmer, Justin Walsh addressed these issues in his presentation to the 2020 DRF Symposium. Justin openly talks about getting the on-farm settings right to control risk and drive profit. His four big settings include feed, pasture growth curve, calving pattern, and stocking rate. Justin said, it is the interaction of these four big settings that will make us more efficient. We need to grow wealth over time and passion alone will not pay the bills.
In May 2019, agCap entered into a twelve-month management agreement with a South Western Victoria dairy farmer. The farm comprises approximately 330 effective milking ha’s and 610 autumn calving cows. Over previous years of operations, the calving period on the farm had been pushed later into the growing season, had become spread over five months and total milk production from similar levels of inputs had declined.
agCap approached this with a simple process of learn – commit – do – review.
- Learn – agCap identified the problem, the potential solutions, and developed strategies
- Commit – buy in to the strategies was obtained from the farm owner, farm manager, local veterinarian, and the AI technician
- Do – the strategy was carried out by the farm manager, the farm vet, and the AI technician
- Review – the entire process was reviewed 12 months later