Back Filling feed gaps

Date: 23 July 2018

New Zealand’s pasture-based dairy farming systems are revered worldwide, but with that reputation comes an expectation that pasture production should be the same year-in, year-out – and that’s not so.

The weather can be a New Zealand farmer’s nemesis, with regular challenges being thrown up at all times of the year, and if farmers aren’t prepared to fill feed gaps when they occur, their farming business can take a hard hit.

Milk output is driven by energy input, and if your feed input is too low, relative to your feed demand, you will end up with low per-cow production, and therefore lower profit.

This winter, a lot of farmers are being forced to feed out more due to soil wetness.

Others are causing damage through pugging, which will almost surely impact pasture growth in spring. Paddocks pugged and damaged in the winter can lead to reduced pasture production; with little or no pasture surplus generated, there is a lot less pasture silage made.

And with the feed gap PKE restrictions will create on many farms this coming spring, farmers will struggle to have enough feed on hand to cope with the impacts this wet winter is having on feed supplies.
There are several ways to minimise the likelihood of a feed gap on your farm this coming season:
1. Prepare a feed budget: A feed budget is a good first step to plan for whatever the season may present. To determine how much feed you will require for the coming season, be realistic about expected pasture growth rates and target milk production levels and use these to determine how much supplement you require and when you will need it.
2. Fully feed cows on grass: If you are able to fully feed cows on grass without damaging the soil, then do so, because the wet winter is likely to result in even wetter soils in spring.
3. Protect wet pastures: Feed maize silage on the feed pad every now and again in the spring if it gets too wet to graze animals without damaging the soil.
4. Future proof feed: Make sure you have enough feed in the future to cope with any lack in feed supplies by planning ahead. Now is the time to plan your feed by getting ready to grow maize on farm or on your run off or talk to contract growers about securing feed for this coming spring, as demand is high and maize silage may be in short supply. Waiting to purchase maize on the spot market when you need it is risky and expensive.
5. Reserve feed for challenging times: Having to store maize silage for a year only adds 1.8c/kgDM (30c/kgDM X 6% interest), while providing security of feed and a buffer against likely price increases that always happen when milk price increases or feed becomes short.

Maize silage is an ideal supplement to have on hand to fill feed gaps if and when they occur. It does require planning though, so now is the time to start planning your maize for the coming spring.