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Improve your bottom line from high-quality pasture

By Kevin Wilson

High-quality pasture plays a major role in producing milk solids more efficiently and cost-effectively.

It is widely accepted that pasture grown on the milking platform is the cheapest – and most beneficial – feed available to a dairy farm. Pasture produced throughout a season typically provides 80 to 90% of a milking cow’s diet.

Farmers are often faced with the issue of pasture having less than desired density of ryegrass and clover due to factors like insect damage, drought conditions, and treading damage through autumn or spring. Poor persistance leads to replacement of sown with poorer-yielding species and gradual yield leakage.

Research has consistently shown that soil damage from pugging will cause an immediate loss of pasture utilisation by approximately 40%, reducing perennial ryegrass tiller density by 54% and pasture yield in the following spring by 40% (figures based on a 2001 study by Zhongnan Nie).

This short-term damage will consequently result in long-term production losses due to the invasion of inferior producing pasture species. The figure (provided in a link below) outlines the association between pasture harvested and farm profit (Source: PGG Wrightson Seeds: Dairy Pasture Guide 2009, Meeting the pasture needs of New Zealand's dairy farmers). 

The cost to your business depends very much on your individual situation, but the difference between your best and poorest performing paddock is likely to be up to 40%. This difference will present a drop in pasture production of 5,500 kgDM/ha/year – equivalent to a $2300/ha difference in potential earnings – based on the assumption that this feed was used for the milking herd. Considering that most farmers treat their pastures equivalently in terms of input, this significant loss demonstrates how crucial it is for dairy farmers to protect pastures in the short term to ensure ongoing production.

Maintaining a pasture renewal policy is recommended to ensure your pastures are always performing. However, it takes an average of 12 to 18 months for a renovated pasture to recover its costs ($1200/ha).

In almost all instances, pasture is the lowest-cost feed available to a New Zealand dairy farmer. Therefore it is imperative that pastures are protected and renewed when necessary. Having said that, producing and utilising existing high-quality pasture will improve your bottom line.

View the figure on outlining the association between pasture harvested and farm profit (JPG file:40KB) 

Access the Dairy Pasture Guide 2009: Meeting the needs of New Zealand’s dairy farmers (PDF file:1.62MB)