Dry conditions take toll on production

By Graeme Pitman

Hot dry weather over the past five weeks has resulted in lower pasture growth rates and declining feed levels and milk production over late summer on the Stratford Demonstration Farm and the dry weather is expected to continue.

Taranaki did have some good rain at the start of February and Central Taranaki is far better off than most other areas. On the demonstration farm the dry weather may require some major action to reduce feed demand soon, especially on the high-stocked farmlet, but in drier areas this action is required now.

Rainfall for January at 82mm was only 60 per cent of average levels and was mainly over the first two weeks of the month. Air and soil temperatures were over one degree celcius above average levels and sunshine hours were 20 per cent above average. Apart from a very welcome 65mm rain at the start of February, this hot dry weather has continued to late February.

Pasture growth on the farm has been around 30kg DM/ha/day which is 15 per cent below average levels. Pasture covers were at reasonably good levels at the start of February, but are declining quickly now. Both herds are on around 30-day rotation lengths, which is a comfortable 110 m2/cow/day for the low-stocked low-input herd but a tighter 83 m2/cow/day for the high-stocked high-input herd.

This rotation length will be held to late autumn and currently cows are being made to graze out any carried over poor quality feed while it is dry.

The low-stocked herd at 2.8 cows/ha ideally require at least 35kg DM/ha/day to maintain a reasonably good grass feeding level. They have so far been well fed and were producing 1.4kg ms/cow/day and 3.9kg ms/ha/day on all-grass feeding. This herd has 340kg DM/cow of supplement available which was planned to be mainly for winter feeding, but if need be a reasonable amount could be fed in the summer or autumn. However, with no feed to be brought in, any silage fed now will mean drying off earlier later in the autumn.

The high-stocked high-input herd at 4 cows/ha is now down to 8kg DM/cow of pasture feeding and require 5 to 6kg of PKE supplement per cow.

They have been producing 1.55kg ms/cow/day and 6.2kg ms/ha/day but this is likely to drop. Only one high-stocked cow has been culled so far and the plan was to milk most cows in both herds on to late in the season. With the dry weather this plan will now change.

The herds were pregnancy tested last week with an empty or possibly empty rate of about 9 per cent at this stage. With the low-stocked group any definite culls which are low producing will be culled as soon as possible and silage fed when needed to keep the rest going so are there to utilise the autumn grass when it comes. With the high-stocked herd most definite culls will now have to be culled as soon as possible and PKE fed as much as possible to keep the rest milking. There is no silage available for this herd. If the feed situation then gets tighter, drying off younger cows and lower condition cows will be required and once/day milking if production drops too low. The cows are currently in good weights and at a good average condition score of 4.6 so low condition is not an issue yet, but will need to be watched if cows are underfed.

Graeme is farm management consultant to the Stratford Demonstration Farm.

- Stratford Press

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