Being mindful of wasting feed

02 Feb, 2019 04:00 AM
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Tom Acocks: you need to have good quality feed, you need to store it correctly, you need quality silage.
We can't afford to be wasting feed, not just this year, but any year.
Tom Acocks: you need to have good quality feed, you need to store it correctly, you need quality silage.

For Tom Acocks, knowing how much feed he has, what quality it is and wasting as little as possible is the key to running an efficient dairy farm business.

Running a hybrid system where his 900 cows are on a total mixed ration regime for seven months of the year with five months available for grazing, Mr Acocks said he believed measuring and conserving feed were helping the family business cope with the tough conditions faced by northern Victorian farmers.

"If you are not getting the response you need from the feed going in, you will be behind the eight ball, not just this year but every year," he said.

The Acocks 1300-hectare farm at Rochester moved from a pasture-based system about seven years ago and is now centred around vetch and wheat crops on dryland with irrigated lucerne and maize, as well as some ryegrass or clover for grazing.

They grow 80 per cent of their fodder on farm, buying in some protein sources and grain when needed, which helps produce 780 kilograms of milk solids per cow per year.

"To make all that work you need to have good quality feed, you need to store it correctly, you need quality silage," Mr Acocks said.

"We feed a lot of silage, so that is the bulk of ration. We need to make sure we cut at the right time, ensiling it properly, choosing the right crop varieties to give us the best feed quality.

"We feed test everything as it goes into the pit so we know what dry matter we have and we feed test it as it comes out so we know what the ration looks like after we have ensiled it.

"Depending on the stack -- if it is a big stack -- we will feed test once we get a face going and again halfway through the stack if we think the dry matter is changing."

"We just feed test all the time."

Once sure of the quality, the Acocks team works hard to ensure as little as possible is wasted once it has been put in front of the cow.

Estimating that up to 20pc of fed-out product would have been left behind under the old pasture system, Mr Acocks said that had been reduced to negligible levels.

"We aim to have about 5pc of the feed from the day before left in front of the cows, which we call refusal or weigh-back," he said.

"We push that feed out each day and weigh it and then feed it to dry cows, heifers or lower producing cows."

While it has taken 10 years of planning and implementing, Mr Acocks said reducing wastage was one of the key areas that the family identified to deal with a tightening dairy market.

"With the way the water market was heading, we thought that investing in that feeding infrastructure was the only way we were going to survive," he said.

"We can't afford to be wasting feed, not just this year, but any year."

Feed budgeting is the third element of the Acocks efficient-feeding regime, with careful documentation of what the cows are eating making planning easier.

"We work on known quantities of silage we have on hand -- we keep an inventory of that," Mr Acocks said.

"We do daily feed sheets for the guys feeding cows. We have a full-time labour unit that just feeds cows so they get a print out of what groups need feeding each day.

"Based on that daily feed sheet, I will know how much we will use of each commodity in a 12-month or one-month period."

For further information on feed budgeting, reducing feed wastage or feed testing go to www.dairyaustralia.com.au/feedshortage.

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