The benefits of supplementary feed
Date: 07 May 2014
As I sit and gaze out the window above my laptop, I find it hard to believe that here in the dairy farming mecca of the mighty Waikato, we are in the grips of drought-like conditions for the second autumn in a row.
As I sit and gaze out the window above my laptop, I find it hard to believe that here in the dairy farming mecca of the mighty Waikato, we are in the grips of drought-like conditions for the second autumn in a row. The previous drought in the autumn of 2013 took its toll on the whole farming community and proved what volatile times we live in. The recovery from the rains in April was incredible and subsequent pasture growth exceeded expectations throughout the following months, daring us to hope that the unthinkable may occur - a very positive payout, on top of a fantastic growing season. Alas, these hopes were dashed by mid-January as strong, drying winds, coupled with low soil moisture started to show the effects of another dry period. This has continued to the present day, with very little rain falling so far in 2014.
The case for having a solid feed buffer on hand to minimise these extreme weather events is strong. Our pasture based system is taking a bit of a hammering and we can no longer get away with having three weeks or so of pasture silage on hand to feed when the drought breaks, as was custom when I started farming a few years back! In order to maximise the genetic merit of our herd and maintain profitability year after year, I have finally worked out that consistent feeding levels along with maintaining top cow condition is essential to sustaining profitability and peace of mind.
With grass growth being as erratic as it is, my wife Bev and I have found that in our system the easiest way to smooth out the volatility of growth rates is to have supplementary feed stocks on hand at all times to top up any deficits, whenever they may occur. We don't know from one season to the next whether growth will equal demand as our insatiable demand for milksolids ever increases.
This year we grew maize on farm as well as on our maize block, to maximise cheap, home grown feed. Having these extra paddocks growing maize after annual ryegrasses meant we grew a lot more feed over 12 months, mining nutrients from effluent along the way. Maize is now being fed as silage to keep our cows milking and also as an ideal way to lift condition score to where we want our herd to be on 1 June. Our herd's average condition score sits at around 4.6 at the moment, meaning that to achieve an average of five by the 1 June, we need to feed an extra 80 kg of maize over and above milking requirements over the next two months. With this in mind, we have calculated that if we can maintain a daily production level of 1 kg ms/cow/day we need to feed around 15 kg of drymatter /cow/day, assuming an average ME of 11%. The maize buffer we have built up enables us to keep the cows milking, while adding grass silage and PKE to the diet, owing to the extreme grass deficit.
Every day is a day closer to the rain, which is hugely exciting. However, till that happens, we will keep feeding our cows our 100% ration of supplementary feed, secure in the knowledge that the cows are happy, we are happy and profit is still being made.