Setting up the season on the Tallangatta Focus Farm
The February meeting of the support group on Mark and Narelle McDonald's Murray Dairy Focus Farm was packed with topics for discussion:
- production compared to targets;
- feeding levels;
- milk price and the domestic incentive;
- reproductive performance; and
- the pasture/forage sowing program over the next two months.
Buying extra cows was clearly established as being profitable to the business and so some were purchased in November. As a result, December and January's milk production has been above target. Based on income estimations provided by Murray Wisewould from Murray Goulburn, if the target production is achieved for the rest of the year, then the year milk price for the farm should be about $5.76/kg milk solids. This includes $0.14/kg MS growth incentive, due to a 22 per cent increase in production and $0.33/kg MS domestic incentive, based on 48 per cent being supplied as DI milk.
The supplementary feeding program in early February was slightly higher than planned, due to the amount of home-grown direct harvest feed being less than anticipated. At the time of the Support Group meeting the 350 split calving cows were producing 1.63 kg MS (22 litres) while being fed 55 per cent purchased supplement (8.1 kg dry matter) with the remainder pasture and crop.
After allowing for all the supplementary feed costs and including irrigated crops and pastures, the daily margin was $4.65. That is 58 per cent of income available to cover other farm costs - not bad for the middle of summer given the stocking rate of 4.6 cows per hectare on the irrigation and crop area and ignoring the minimal contribution from the dryland to the diet. Cow numbers will decrease to about 260 over February and March and then increase from early April with the start of autumn calving.
The next critical feed period for the farm will be early May when there will likely be 400 milkers on the farm. This is the period when all of the activity and planning needs to focus on maximising home grown feed. The aim is to have 137 hectares in rotation by May 1 and have good cover over at least 110 hectares.
At this time of year the cost of seed, sprays and fertiliser always seems uppermost in people's minds. It's worth noting that from North East discussion group data (ONFARM), the cost of these inputs compared to the feed grown and consumed, was $69 per tonne dry matter in 2010/2011. So it was relatively cheap feed, as long as all the boxes are ticked in the management process. These boxes include removal of trash, spraying weeds, getting the right cultivar correctly sown and then fertilised.
The autumn program on the Focus Farm will involve 160 hectares being sown of the total grazing area of 239 hectares; 120 hectares of this being on the 183 hectare milking area. This will cost about $170 per hectare, or about $27,000 in total. The general approach has been to sow perennial ryegrass in reliable irrigation areas and short term cultivars and crops (rape and chicory) in less reliable areas of the farm. The autumn strategy includes:
- increased area sown to perennial ryegrass, from 63 hectare to 81 hectare;
- Feast and chicory, to help improve summer production in 2013;
- Feast and Winfred Rape as autumn start feed for May this year;
- Crusader, Feast and Warrior in some of the milking area dry land paddocks;
- an annual such as Zoom on some sections of the turnout area, and possibly oats in some sections; and
- a paddock will also be drilled with oats in preparation for a potential spring sowing of Lucerne.
The focus over the next month will be on the irrigation area re-sowing, as there is no need to take excessive risk on the dryland part of the farm.
The preparation for sowing depends on seasonal conditions over the next month, but will definitely include hard grazing, mulching or mowing, and possibly a herbicide. The latter needs very careful consideration.
Autumn herbicide applications will be based on ensuring the best chemical is selected for each and every application. Attention will be paid to plant-back periods, grazing withholding periods and most importantly, the target weeds. In other words, knowing what is to be killed, and desired sowing dates.
Many farmers take a broad brush approach to herbicide applications, perhaps in an effort to control costs, but instead create situations where too much or too little chemical, or even the wrong one is applied. Annual summer grasses are quite easy to eradicate with relatively low rates of knockdown herbicides. Alternatively, bent grass, couch grass and paspalum require a far more aggressive approach - higher rates and often additional spikes.
Specifically targeted applications work and are often cheaper to apply and are far less likely to fail. The Focus Farm is likely to apply around four different "brews" across the farm to suit different needs. They include some more complicated mixes to target troublesome weeds like sorrel, fleabane and flatweed, as well as relatively simple glyphosate applications.
Another aspect of forward planning on the Focus Farm has been addressing the possible threat of Black Beetle. The North East has seen Black Beetle become an increasingly serious threat to pasture production. They attack seedling plants and can often cause complete establishment failures.
Higher levels of summer moisture seem to have increased their numbers. This year the Focus Farm will take a more aggressive approach and apply suitable insecticides, both now and shortly after the new pastures emerge. The summer spraying and preparation work means nothing if we are not able to put grass down the throats of our cows. It is important to manage all aspects well.
In summary, the message is clear - if the Focus Farm wants feed from early autumn onwards then it needs to reduce competition from weeds, trash and pests, and sow early; the lowest risk areas being a priority. The complete summary of sowings on the Focus Farm will be available at the next Field Day in July.
The reproductive performance on the Focus Farm and the financial progress will be covered in future Mountain Milk Line articles.
For further information regarding the North East Focus Farm, contact Troy Mauger at Murray Dairy, telephone 0417 870 038