From the Experts

Improving feed base performance

By Dairy News

Findings from a recent Gardiner Dairy Foundation feed base research survey of 153 Victorian dairy farmers found that most respondents felt ‘very’ or ‘reasonably’ confident about their ability to get the most out of their pastures.

This feedback is in contrast with the 19 industry consultants/advisers who were also surveyed and overwhelmingly identified significant room for improvement in the production and consumption of home-grown feed by their client farmers.

Knowing what ‘good’ pasture consumption can be achieved for your local climate is important in setting realistic targets for your farm. A rough rule of thumb is to target one tonne of dry matter per 100 ml of rainfall and irrigation. However, this has obvious limitation in climatic extremes.

Of the 50 farmers who took part in the research in the south-west, only 47 per cent were able to provide a figure of the estimated home grown-feed consumption. This is a concern because how do you improve performance if you don’t measure it?

The responses of farmers who did quote a pasture consumption ranged from 3.3 to 12 tonnes DM/ha. Both individual farmer’s performance and climatic conditions across the region account for the wide range quoted.

To increase home-grown feed performance it is essential to know how you have performed in the past.

When estimating your pasture consumption, there are a number of tools available to assist you. The gold standard is the DairyBase tool:

If you are not looking to analyse the whole business and only want to focus on your pasture, the Pasture Consumption Calculator may be more useful: Once you have signed in, click on the ‘ask the calculator’ tab for the simplest tool to use.

If the thought of plugging your information into a computer is undesirable, contact the WestVic Dairy office and staff will be able to assist you with a simple paper-based pasture consumption estimate.

Regardless of your tool or method used to estimate your pasture consumption, the important thing is to ensure you are comparing apples with apples. Comparisons between estimated pasture consumption should only be made when all the results have been created using the same method.

This is where the power of the DairyBase tool becomes evident, as there is an industry-agreed method, with more accurate data to benchmark against, already housed within the tool.

But at the end of the day, the most important farm to benchmark against is your own farm over time.

Another way to compare feed base performance is the Dairy Farm Monitor project. The annual report has captured estimated home-grown feed consumption from 25 farms in south-west Victoria over many years and provides a source of sound data to make reasonable comparisons if you have used the same method to calculate pasture consumption.

The table below demonstrates the wide range in directly-grazed feed consumption that is possible in the region. It is important to note that both the lowest and highest estimated grazed pasture are a single farm’s result and no doubt there will be a story behind each of these results.

Once you have the data on hand you can determine how your farm’s pasture consumption stacked up. Any surprises? Are you above or below average? Did you receive average rainfall for the season?

If you are disappointed in your estimated pasture consumption result, it may be worthwhile participating in the 2018 Feeding Pastures for Profit program to sharpen up your pasture management skills.

Feeding Pastures for Profit is the major Dairy Australia feed base program. In south-west Victoria, the program starts in April with two contact days where the pasture fundamentals, tools and concepts are established. Then over five on-farm days throughout the seasons, the farmer action group visits course participants’ farms to apply the principles to practical situations.

Two programs of 10 to 15 participants will be run across the region in 2018. For more information or to secure your place in the program, phone Peter Gaffy on 0438 345 712.

• By Peter Gaffy, WestVic Dairy regional extension officer