Improving pasture to drive dairy farm profits

05 May, 2017 02:00 PM
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Tasmanian dairyfarmers are being taught to work out the leaf stage of pasture and use this to set the grazing rotation.
It can be quite easy and cheap to improve pasture consumption.
Tasmanian dairyfarmers are being taught to work out the leaf stage of pasture and use this to set the grazing rotation.

Improving pasture consumption was the focus of recent pasture coaching groups organised by the Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture Dairy Centre as part of the Dairy On PAR project.

Pasture is an important part of the Tasmanian dairy industry, with home-grown feed forming an average 69 per cent of the metabolisable energy in the diet of a dairy cow.

It is one of the key drivers of dairy farm profitability.

The exciting thing is that, unlike milk price (another key driver of profitability), it can be quite easy and cheap to improve pasture consumption.

Four groups, each with four to eight participants, met eight times in the past 12 months as part of the institute’s pasture coaching program.

The participants varied in age, experience and role, but were all focused on improving their grazing management skills to improve pasture consumption.

Participants worked through a series of exercises to help them:

  • Work out the leaf stage of pasture and use this to set the grazing rotation.
  • Use a plate meter to measure average pasture cover, pre-grazing covers and post-grazing residuals.
  • Calculate cow requirements.
  • Determine how much cows are being fed from pasture and decide whether supplement needs to be provided and if so, which is the best supplement(s) to use.
  • Prepare a feed budget.
  • Monitor soil moisture and work out irrigation scheduling.
  • Use nitrogen effectively.
  • All of the pasture coaching group sessions take place on farms around Tasmania, which allows the exercises to be practical and realistic.

    A participant in a recent pasture coaching group, John Kelly of Sheffield, took part because he wanted to get the most out of his pasture.

    He said the pasture coaching sessions helped him to put numbers to his grazing management decisions, which has helped build confidence.

    As a result of the pasture coaching sessions, Mr Kelly has started using a plate meter to measure pre-grazing pasture cover and check residuals.

    He is also using leaf emergence rate to guide rotation length decisions.

    All of this has helped his understanding of some of the key terms used in the dairy industry.

    “I have been going to discussion groups for a while but haven’t really understood all the numbers that people talk about," he said.

    "But now I go along to discussion groups and it all makes sense and I can join in the discussion.”

    Mr Kelly has also found the on-farm aspect of the pasture coaching sessions useful as it has allowed him to see how other group members managed their pasture and pick up tips on feeding cows.

    The Dairy Centre will be starting another round of pasture coaching groups in June.

    Contact Sam Flight at email Samantha.Flight@utas.edu.au or phone 0409 801 341.

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