The importance of day-to-day on-farm observations was emphasised at the Pasture Plus discussion group event at the Southern Dairy Hub last Thursday.
Nathan Nelson, from DairyNZ, told the group that while structured soil and herbage testing was an important part of paddock and soil nutrient management, it was important for farmers to take a close look at any changes or standout features of their pasture.
''While nutrient status can be a limiting factor in pasture quality, there are lots of other factors to be aware of as well,'' he said.
''These can include the species that is planted, especially in old paddocks, the health of the soil, weeds, drainage and the aspect of a paddock in hill country.''
Besides looking at pasture quality, the discussion group also reviewed the issues around baleage and silage, especially when it came to calculating costs of different regimes within farming systems.
''Accurate cost calculations around silage and baleage need to take into account the full range of costs, not just the cost of producing or purchasing the feed,'' Mr Nelson said.
''Every time you start the tractor or move and distribute feed you're incurring additional fuel, maintenance and labour costs and these need to all be taken into account when managing your farm budgets.''
It was important to focus on what the cows were consuming and to minimise wastage.
Mr Nelson said farmers also had to be careful when supplementing pasture with other feed.
''Supplementary feed works when you are in a pasture deficit situation, but you need to ensure you don't have on-farm feed going to waste in those situations,'' he said.
''If you're not careful, you can get into a situation where you are incurring additional overheads which don't add to your production.''
The group also looked at a range of options when it came to feeding out stack silage in winter, especially in situations where feed pads were not available.
''Farmers need to manage pasture damage in these situations,'' Mr Nelson said.
''The reality in Southland is that it is going to get wet in winter and farmers need to make decisions which protect the bulk of the farm.''
There were options such as stand-off pads and use of wires to control stock access to feed.
He said stack management was also important during feeding out and it was worthwhile for farmers to look at equipment such as block cutters to minimise damage and exposure to the air, which could undermine the quality of the silage.
Mr Nelson said soil testing was an important part of ensuring good quality pasture and, while whole-farm testing was the optimal approach, cost could be a factor in limiting this.
''Given paddock variable across a farm can be huge, there are approaches to testing that can help progress from season to season,'' he said.
''For example, if you know you are putting a particular paddock into a crop next year, whether it be fodder beet, kale or the like, you can have that paddock tested to make sure your fertiliser application ensures optimum production and provides the best return on your investment.''
Southern Rural Life