Anne Lee

Using technology to help lift pasture eaten and reduce nitrogen loss could be as simple as taking a photo on your phone and shifting cows once a day after milking rather than twice a day.

Barenbrug Agriseeds Graham Kerr shared three top lessons in using pasture smarter based on Lincoln University Dairy Farm’s (LUDF) experience at the farm’s latest focus day.

Number one was achieving consistent residuals, day in and day out with the only exception when cows had to be taken off if ground conditions got too wet.

LUDF has a standard policy of a 1500kg drymatter (DM)/ha post-grazing, pasture residual.

Kerr says LUDF has shown it’s possible to get an extra 3% pasture eaten and lift pasture quality through improved metabolisable energy (ME) to give a double whammy simply through good pasture management.

‘We know that grass grows grass and if you can hold off grazing until tillers have produced that third leaf you can maximise available pasture.’

On a 200-hectare farm growing 15 tonnes DM/ha an extra 3% pasture production with 0.3 megajoules metabolisable energy (ME) more per kg DM could put another $145,000 in the bank through extra milk production for no additional cost.

To achieve a consistent residual everyone responsible for shifting cows onfarm needs to know what they’re aiming for.

“Everyone’s 1500kg DM/ha needs to be the same. Does everyone in your farm team know what that looks like?

“Take a photo – put it up where everyone can see it. Better yet, make sure everyone has it on their phone so they have something to check what they’re seeing out in the paddock against.

“Take a platemeter out and have a discussion with the farm team – someone’s 1500kg DM/ha can easily be someone else’s 1700kg DM/ha and the platemeter can help avoid that.”

Using 24-hour grazings by shifting cows to their new break after the afternoon milking, means you only have half as many residuals to get right and reduces the number of decisions that have to be made each day.

It also has the effect of helping cut potential nitrate losses as ryegrass has higher carbohydrate levels later in the afternoon and lower protein levels.

Protein digestion in the rumen is more efficient thanks to the higher carbohydrate levels which means less excess nitrogen is lost in urine.

Kerr suggested a way to focus farm team members on the importance of residuals was to include it as a key performance indicator (KPI).

“Put it in people’s job descriptions, formalise it as a target.”

Having “what if” contingency plans and options is a must for those times when weather means residuals haven’t been met in order to protect the soils and pastures.

There may also be paddocks where residuals aren’t achieved for other reasons such as older pasture species.

Tactics to reset could include putting cows back in, following up with other stock classes and pre or post-grazing mowing.

“What’s important is you act on those rules quickly.”

Lesson number two from LUDF has been its smarter pasture renewal.

Too often people renew paddocks because they look ugly.