Dairy "Efficiency" by The AlderneySunday, Jan 6, 2002
For as long as I have milked cows in New Zealand I have been told of the inefficiency of overseas farmers and of their stupidity at using supplements in times of high grass growth. I have been conditioned to believe that point of view and have basked in the title of being one of the most 'efficient' farmers in the world. I am starting to question that view especially this season.
May be the overseas competitors were actually farming to their conditions, both climatic and financial. In the Manawatu the dry winter and early spring enabled strong per cow production, but when the rain came the production dropped dramatically. With the damp conditions the grass was abundant with reasonable utilization but still the milk solids faded.
Quality control was important to maintain fresh leafy pasture but that did not prevent the slide. The problem lay some where in the lack of energy that the cow was able to harvest to maintain the high peak production. The grass had high moisture levels from the wet ground; it was low in energy from the low sunshine levels and overcast skies, and was flowering in its natural cycle.
Aren't these the very conditions that we associate with U.K. and Northern European dairy farming? With their historic returns for milk produce would they sit back and allow the adverse conditions to dictate a slide in production? Obviously they would not.
Regular seasons of those conditions would mean the development of strategies that maintained high production. These strategies would have to include displacing lower energy grass with high-energy supplement, which is exactly what we have been so smugly critical about. Our payouts have increased and our use of supplements like maize silage has risen with them. More high energy feed is being bought and carried forward on farms.
We are now starting to find the stages of the season where an economic return can be made from such feeds. This season the higher payouts would have made the use of supplement during the late spring and early summer an option worth exploring, but I know of only a few who took it. An opportunity was lost. \
If supplement had been used and the cows in the Manawatu had maintained a production level of 1.8Kgs milk solids rather than the average figure of 1.4Kgs then gross gains of $2.00 per cow could have been achieved. How much supplement could be fed economically, when a fair profit margin had been allowed for?
Those who reacted quickly to the situation of low energy in the grass would have got an economic gain and would have had cows producing at higher levels when the sun shone again. They are the smart farmers. It is probably time to drop the 'most efficient dairy farming' title that we bestow upon ourselves, and target becoming the smartest dairy farmers in the world. That means being versatile in one's thinking and able to adopt new methods when called for.