Weathering the dry

1/05/2020

Weathering the dry on Owl Farm

It’s been a tough summer for most dairy farms and managing significant feed deficits has proved challenging. Owl Farm, the St Peter’s demonstration farm near Cambridge, has faced the same challenges as the rest of the farming community.

The warning lights started to flash towards the end of 2019. Conditions were already dry after a winter with low rainfall and the last rainfall of note (23ml) occurred towards the tail-end of December.

Owl Farm had summer turnip and kale crops in the ground “In January we weighed the crops and they had gone backwards.” says Tom Buckley, Owl Farm Manager. “Each day when I went out there I could see they were shrivelling up.” The team swung into action – rigorous monitoring, modelling scenarios using Farmax, and a proactive approach are key to their farm management.

They had paddocks shut up for hay, but were unable to feed that off as it was too mature, so they started to feed out PKE to preserve their pasture supply. They also purchased 40tDM standing silage, this filled the shortfall when they were unable to meet their season’s silage target (220tDM) from their own surplus.

Then they looked at their stock management. They lined up their pregnancy diagnosis date and organised for any empties to leave straight afterwards. Flexible milking intervals are a powerful tool in their kit too. They identified a group of young cows in the herd which required special management, these were put onto OAD milking. They also kept a close eye on their youngstock, which were off farm grazing, to check that they were hitting their weight targets.

Moving into the new year conditions continued to worsen. Their summer crops, strategic use of supplements, and drying cows off became critical to preserving pasture and hitting cow condition targets.

They continued to use flexible milking intervals too. In late January they shifted to 3-in-2 milking, and then on the 10th February the whole herd was shifted to OAD.

“Pasture and crop data let us know how much we had,” says Buckley. “So looking at our pantry week-on-week, seeing how much we had to feed and how much we were growing, we could see we were well short on crop yield. That left a big hole, we couldn’t feed more PKE, because of FEI, so that meant we had to reduce our demand, or try and fill that hole. We did a bit of both, dried off a small mob first and bought in some silage.”

“We used the DairyNZ BCS Dry-Off calculator to work out which cows we needed to dry off to hit our BCS targets,” says Jo Sheridan, Owl Farm Demonstration Manager. “That showed us that we needed to dry off 58 cows at the end of February.”

“We didn’t get any March rain,” says Buckley. “So then we dried off a further 110 cows, which left us with a core mob of cows that only needed maintenance feeding; they already had good condition, or they were late calvers.

“The plan was to feed 5kgDM/cow/day of kale from early March, We ended up feeding 3.5-4 kgDM/cow/day in February into early March instead.” They also bought in extra baleage and PKE to add to their feed supply.

After a small amount of rainfall, March was also when they started putting their pasture renewal program into action. By mid-March they had planted 47ha new pasture, and they were working on rebuilding existing pastures. Nitrogen applications began (they have a target of remaining below 150kgN/ha/year), and in April they applied ProGibb to selected pastures which were for feeding to the remaining milking herd.

“Staying flexible and responsive is key for us”, says Sheridan. “Identifying at risk cows and managing them appropriately, using flexible milking intervals, and getting culls off early are all important. But also having the flexibility to respond to changing conditions. Because we have a lower stocking rate we need to build in some flexibility for a good autumn. The risk for us is if we went for it till the end of March, then dried everything off, and then we had a massive recovery, we would have no flexibility to increase intake and we would have had no option but to make silage. Being lower stocked the only lever we have to pull in a good autumn is in our diet. Whereas a higher stocked farm, that relies on more supplement in the autumn, has more room to play with.”

Come the end of April the farm is heading into winter on a positive trajectory, the pastures are recovering, and the herd is on the way to successfully achieving their BCS targets. Sheridan is quick to point our that their approach is just one of many that have resulted in an acceptable end to the season “Different approaches can work equally well,” she says.

For more detailed information on Owl Farm’s management, updates and all the numbers, check out their Facebook page www.facebook.com/OwlFarmNZ.

Autumn recovery

18 March 2020 Farm Focus Day

19/02/2020

The next Owl Farm Focus Day is to be held as a live stream event on the 18th March starting at 10.30am.

Wednesday, 18 March

10.30am-11.30am

Click on the link below to watch live or at a later date.

https://youtu.be/zMNQQQCl7jY

 

Handout below. Please read as we will be referencing it during the presentation.

18th March Farm Focus Day Handout

 

Season Update

 All AI mating with sexed semen, Wagyu and short gestation

Pregnancy results, impacts for the farm system

 

Surviving summer and getting back on track

Review of crop yields and mitigating heat stress

Plan for the Autumn ahead

 

 

 

Venue – via video link only

 

 

Find us on Twitter or Facebook: @OwlFarmNZ 

For further information:  e. enquiries@owlfarm.nz p. 021 712 680

 

25 September 2019 Farm Focus Day

30/09/2019

Wednesday 25 September 2019

Download Focus Day booklet here

60 attendees heard about our 2019 season to date:
Season so far: More milk from more home grown feed - 2,240kgMS more milk, spent $10k less than budget YTD and have highest ever BCS going into mating.

Accurate soil testing: Adding Total N tests to the 7 blocks soil sampled annually. This allows us to align the most efficient N use strategy with each soil block.

Plan for mating: 100 Sexed semen straws for top 80% BW cows, Wagyu straws for the bottom 20% and all cows cycling in weeks 5-7.  From week 8 to the end of mating cows will receive short gestation dairy semen. 

Study of time and tasks on farm: We are monitoring hours towards our goal of 45hr/week/person (average for the year).  We also analysed time and tasks on farm through spring to identify the areas where we are spending the most time and look at options to reduce these. Movement of cows to and from milking is our first priority.

 

 

May Focus Day - Season review and Repro

22/05/2019

Owl Farm Focus Day Wednesday, 22 May  

Download the booklet Here

Season Wrap and Repro Focus

Season Update

More milk from fewer cows, less homegrown feed in Autumn and the same bought in feed

Financial Forecast

Profit impact of cost changes, dry weather effects and paying off principal
Reproduction Review

Higher in-calf rate, lower not-in-calf rate and then Neospora
Research Snapshot

DairyNZ’s animal model and research in the fertility BV

Includes lunch, All Welcome

Venue – Owl Farm

St Peter’s School, 1716 Cambridge road,

 Old SH1, Cambridge

 

Focus Day November 21 2018

26/10/2018

Last Owl Farm Focus Day 

Wednesday 21 November 2018

87 attendees heard about a World Markets update from Westpac Economist Anne Boniface.

The information discussed is in the Westpac Fortnightly Agri-update.  Impacts of global demand and supply, what's really happening plus the impact and potential changes in the strength of the kiwi dollar.

Maximising Summer Performance was discussed in a Workshop session sharing ideas on tactics and trigger points to hit key targets. 
the topics for consideration involved:

  1. How do you deploy your supplementary feeds over the next 4 months - what factors need to be considered, e.g. setting aside sialge for spring and winter, and keeping some for the Autumn rains.  How much PKE can be fed and still manage your FEI, how does this change your approach to feeding?
  2. What do you do about rotation length?  Great discussion around when to extend it, what a good target is, and the need to be flexible in response to changing pasture growth.
  3. When would you use OAD on the farm, for all or part of the herd and how do you manage the process?
  4. Lastly, the theme through all of the topics was around flexibility and monitoring.  Growth rates will have an impact on most of the decisions above, and we need to remain flexible with all of the topics ot ahcieve a great outcome.  Starting with a plan of what we expect growth to be will help us easily identify if we are off track.

Current Season Update 
Less cows are making more milk, 94% of the herd submitted in 3 weeks of AB, 4 times last year’s spring silage made.  Holding cows over 2kgMS/cow/day has been a standout highlight of the season with less brought0in feed used to achieve this.  Having strong decision rules around how we wanted to oerate the farm was a key to seeing these results.

Key decision rules Sep - Oct

  • Keep pre-graze under 3,000kgDM/ha
  • Area grazed constant around 6.5ha/day. 17-22 day round of area available to graze
  • Back the farm to grow – put the surplus in the stack
  • Focus on next round quality – cows must work to graze to 1600 or less.
  • Mower fixes any allocation errors where residuals were higher

 

May 23 Owl Farm Focus Day

2/05/2018

Focus Day May 23

An excellent day, where we stayed dry for the most part and brought the cows to the people!

Focus Day Booklet

Our Final Focus day for the dairy season. Morning tea at 10.15am and event kick off 10.30am. Plus our famous Hot Lunch at 12.30!

Time for the round up on the 2018 Season, we'll be all done and dusted and looking at some interim profit figures. 
Fertiliser focus - three years of fertility change on the farm to optimise soil tests. And how you can use less Nitrogen to grow the same amount of grass.
A year of putting plantain into paddocks - what have we learned?
What does the Healthy Rivers Plan Variation mean for Owl Farm?

 

 

 








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