Inside this issue:
- Australian Year of the Farmer
- Innovation Doubles Milk Production
- Bull Selection - Independent information at your fingertips
- Monthly reminders
- What's On
How Much Concentrate Should I Feed The Herd This Summer?
Tom Farran, DEPI Tatura
The amount and type of supplements being fed to the cows should be constantly reviewed and tested. At the time of writing this article (early December 2011) grain prices have, according to Dairy Australia's grain and hay report, come down in price to the extent that grain (or other concentrates) will represent good value to most dairy farmers when the value of the milk produced in the second half of the season is taken into account.
With irrigation water also being relatively cheap and many farms having a reasonable stockpile of conserved forages on hand, most farmers are in a good position to finally cash in after the very long run of tough years. With this in mind it would be very tempting for many farms to sit back, take it easy and not challenge themselves for the rest of the season. However the current circumstances offer at long last an opportunity to get well rewarded for challenging yourself. One area that can reward you well is to correctly determine the most appropriate level of concentrate feeding to optimise profit. Every farmer will need to determine what this level of feeding is for their own unique farm.
The question of 'How much concentrate should I feed the herd this summer? will be answered in three parts. Firstly, the basics of making sure the cows are provided with a safe and balanced diet will be discussed. Secondly, the article will cover the basics of working out which feeds are providing the best value for money. Thirdly, some practical ways to determine what the most profitable amount of supplement to be feeding is will be discussed.
Are the cows getting a balanced diet?
The cows' diet consists of feed and water. Feed is a package of energy, protein, fibre, minerals and water. From the smorgasbord of feeds available (grazed crops and pastures, hay silage, grain, etc) we need to offer the herd the right balance of nutrients in order to keep the cow in good working condition – for today and for next season.
The best way to check the balance of the diet is to do a ration balance. You can either do it yourself or get someone to help you. However, there are a few simple visual assessments that you can make to check the diet. If the balance is out you may observe some of the following:
- A general 'unwell' appearance can be a good indicator that something is wrong. Dull, sunken eyes, a scruffy coat and a hunched back can all be signs of an unbalanced diet, (or could be due to other animal health issues).
- Not enough cows chewing their cud. Cud chewing is a good indicator of rumen health. If less than 50 per cent of the cows resting in the paddock are chewing their cud, the diet is likely to be lacking in fibre.
- Rapid or sustained condition loss in an otherwise healthy cow, particularly in mid lactation can be a sign of not enough energy or a diet imbalance;
- Abnormal changes in production level (monitor vat levels).
- Changes in milk fat and protein levels are a good indicator. Reduced milk fat can be an indication of low fibre levels, while low protein levels are often the result of insufficient energy in the diet. You should monitor the 'absolute' levels and the ratio of these levels. Compare them to previous years.
- Changes in what comes out the back end of the cow – don't doubt the power of 'crapology'. Loose, smelly manure may be a sign of acidosis caused by lack of fibre or inadequate buffering in the diet. Very solid manure generally indicates a diet that is very high in fibre and therefore possibly lacking in energy and protein.
- Metabolic diseases including acidosis (insufficient fibre), displaced abomasums (insufficient fibre), grass tetany (insufficient magnesium), milk fever (insufficient calcium and perhaps magnesium), laminitis (too much highly digestible feed).
Some other general feeding tips that can be helpful include thinking about the quality of the feeds that you are offering. Knowing the quality makes it much easier to put together a balanced ration. Consider feed testing your supplementary feeds, particularly hays and silages.
Sticking to the 50:50 rule is generally safe. At least 50 per cent of the diet should be sourced from hay, silage, and/or pasture; the other 50 per cent can be from high-energy sources such as grain, concentrates and byproducts. If changes are to be made to the diet it is best to do it gradually. The bugs in the rumen need time to adjust to changes and this may take several days to a couple of weeks. Be sure to use the right level of buffer if you are using a higher level of concentrate.
If you change grain sources, check that the roller mill is still cracking the grain correctly and that the amount being delivered to each cow is what you are aiming for.
Try to minimise feed wastage. Up to 50 per cent of feed can be wasted if fed on open ground. Visit Dairy Australia's website (www.dairyaustralia.com.au) and click on the animals, feed and environment tab for more detailed information on feed wastage.
Which feeds represent the best value for money?
To know the true value of a feed we need to know its nutritive quality in terms of metabolisable energy (ME), crude protein (CP) and neutral detergent fibre (NDF). The value of a feed to your farm then depends on the type of nutrient that is lacking in the cow's diet. Energy is often the nutrient that is most needed, but protein and fibre also need to be at adequate levels.
When valuing different feeds, remember the value is often quoted as 'dollars per tonne'. This does not represent what the feeds true value is as the moisture content and nutritive value must be taken into account. The amount of moisture is accounted for by determining the dry matter (DM) percentage of the feed. For example silage is often around 30-50 per cent DM while grain is around 90 per cent DM. This means that for every tonne of silage 500-700 kilograms is water, while a tonne of grain only contains around 100 kilograms of water.
Once the dry matter content has been taken into account then it is necessary to compare the feeds in terms of the limiting nutrient that you are after (ME, CP or NDF). To do this it is necessary to work out the cost per Mega Joule (MJ) of energy or kilogram of crude protein. To demonstrate this, the following example will determine which feed source represents the best value for money between lucerne hay and wheat for a diet that needs more energy.
(delivered & processed)
90% DM13 MJ/kg DM
85% DM10 MJ/kg DM
First you need to determine the cost per kilogram of dry matter. To do this multiply the cost per tonne by 10 and then divide by the dry matter percentage:
For Wheat: Cost per kg DM = $220 x 10 ÷ 90 = 24.4c/kg DM
Now to determine the cost per energy unit, you must first divide the cost per kg DM by the energy concentration of the feed. This load of wheat has the energy value of 13MJ/ kg. Therefore:
Wheat energy cost = 24.4c/kg DM ÷13 MJ/kg = 1.88c/MJ
Using the same calculations:
Lucerne Hay = 22.2c/kg DM = 2.22c/MJ
At this price it would appear that wheat represents much better value for money in terms of supplying energy to the cows. However this hasn't taken into account many other factors that help determine the value of different feeds. Some of these are:
- Wastage - all feeds will have some level of wastage when storing and feeding out. In this example it is likely that on many farms the wheat will have a lot lower percentage of wastage than the lucerne hay. The cost of wastage needs to be factored in and accounted for.
- Ease of handling - you need to have the adequate equipment and facilities. If feeds are stored incorrectly there can be huge amounts of wastage. Some feeds also need to be processed or mixed.
- Fitting the feed into a balanced diet - the diet needs to be balanced and meet the cows' nutritional needs. For this example wheat represented the best value for money in terms of energy, but it provides very little protein or fibre. There is a limit on the amount of concentrate that a cow can safely eat.
- Always have feeds feed tested and seek advice if you are unsure how to balance the diet for your herd. This season there is a large variation in the quality of grain. Make sure you know and specify the quality of the grain you require and price it accordingly.
What is the most profitable level of sup- plement to feed?
The most profitable level of supplement to feed will vary from farm to farm. To find this level you first must understand what happens when the cows are either underfed or overfed. If you 'underfeed' nutritionally or simply don't give the cows a sufficient volume of food then the cost of keeping the cow alive and functioning does not get diluted down enough. A cow needs a certain amount of food to simply stay alive and perform basic functions. Until this maintenance amount of food is supplied very little milk will be produced. After this minimum level of feed has been given to the cow then the additional feed starts to go towards other things such as milk production. Therefore the more feed given to the cow in addition to the maintenance requirements the more milk the cow will produce, which then dilutes down the cost associated with feeding the cow. This however will only work up until a point, in which each additional kilogram of feed given to the cow produces less and less milk – which is referred to as the 'law of diminishing returns'. Also up until this point, there is an opportunity to make a margin over each additional kilogram of feed fed to the cow. For example if you fed a kilogram of wheat to a cow with a total value of 25c/kg and the cow produced an extra litre of milk valued at 35c, then you will have made 10c profit from the additional kilogram of feed fed. This doesn't include other potential benefits like improved body condition score and fertility, as well as protecting pasture residuals.
The term 'overfeeding' refers to when the cow is offered too much feed of reasonable quality and she simply can not eat it all. This is often hard to determine because if you give the cows an extra kilogram of grain in the shed they would likely eat it and leave extra feed elsewhere in their diet, i.e. leave grass out in the paddock . This extra grass left behind may be very hard to detect. The cow will not produce a reasonable amount of extra milk from the additional grain because she isn't actually eating anymore feed in total, but is rather eating an extra kilogram of grain and not consuming a kilogram of pasture. This is unlikely to be a profitable outcome because you have already paid for the grass but now are wasting it and you are also paying for an extra kilogram of grain that isn't producing you much extra milk. An exception to this is if the pasture was of poor quality. In this circumstance it would most likely be more profitable for them to leave the pasture behind and eat the extra grain. In this circumstance a reasonable increase in the amount of milk produced from the extra grain would occur, unless you were already overfeeding the cow with reasonable quality feed.
To determine the most profitable level of supplements you need to work out where the level of feeding is on your farm at which you no longer get a worthwhile response from the last kilogram of feed fed. You then take this last kilogram out of the diet.
While formulating a ration is a very useful tool to work out a starting point for what to feed and how much, the only way to fine tune and make sure you are at the most profitable level is through testing the amount and type of supplement being offered and using observations to determine if the response from the test was profitable. For testing to provide a meaningful answer you first of all need to make sure everything else is consistent. Cow numbers, all other feed types (including pasture) and environmental conditions all need to stay consistent during the test.
The Feeding Pastures for Profit program can greatly help with making profitable feeding decisions. To find out more or to participate in a program contact your local DEPI Dairy Extension Officer in Tatura, Echuca or Cobram. The current circumstances this season offer an opportunity to be well rewarded for challenging yourself. Determining the most appropriate level of concentrate feeding to optimise profit is achievable for all farms. However every farmer will need to determine what that level of feeding is for their own unique farm. Don't think that you have to do it on your own. There is plenty of help out there. Contact your local factory field officer, consultant or nutritional adviser to help you put together a balanced ration for your herd and then be willing to test it.
Feeding Pastures For Profit
Achieve higher pasture production and take the guesswork out of feeding supplements profitably. To put yourself in control participate in an upcoming Feeding Pastures For Profit (FPFP) program.
DEPI Dairy Services will be running FPFP programs this autumn.
For more information please contact Tom Farran DEPI Tatura, telephone (03) 5833 5297; Shayne Ault DEPI Echuca, telephone (03) 5482 0405; Phil Shannon DEPI Cobram, telephone (03) 5871 0613.
Australian Year Of The Farmer – Our Farmers. Our Future.
2012 is the Australian Year of the Farmer (AYOF). It is a year-long celebration of the vital role farmers play in feeding, clothing and providing building materials to house us all. From small farms handed down over generations, to our largest agribusinesses, farming is inherent to the Australian way of life.
Australian Year of the Farmer will remind everyone, from those in our most remote areas to those in our biggest cities, of the role of farming in Australia. Agriculture has always made a significant contribution to the economy and prosperity of our nation. Australian farms and the industries that support them generate more than $405 billion each year; 27 per cent of our GDP.
The objectives of Australian Year of the Farmer are:
- Establish closer ties between Australia's rural and urban communities;
- Celebrate the broad range and fine quality of the produce our farmers grow and harvest;
- Share how Australia is leading the world in farming techniques and innovation;
- Highlight the essential role of Australian agriculture to the maintenance of national and global food security;
- Promote the role our farmers play as environmental managers, creating and delivering sustainability through best practice management;
- Recognise farmers for feeding the nation and sustaining our vital agribusinesses;
- Communicate to all Australians the importance of farming and rural communities to our national economy and social fabric;
- Encourage Australians to reflect on the origins of the food they consume every day and perpetuate the call to buy Australian produce;
- Focus on and prepare for the future of farming in Australia by creating awareness of career opportunities in agriculture and related areas.
AYOF places a strong focus on education and their philosophy is to provide everyone with access to materials to understand the vital role Australian farmers have in growing our future. Too many times we hear people say "milk comes from the supermarket". AYOF aims to change this perception.
Activities and events will be held across the country to educate people that farming sustains our way of life and our economy. An AYOF Road Show will attend rural and agricultural shows and other cultural events. Activities will be run during the Agricultural Technology and Innovation Expo, highlighting the best farming technologies and innovations. An awareness program will demonstrate that our farmers are among the best and most efficient in the world. This is one of the greatest stories never told. In 2012 AYOF will tell this story for all Australians to appreciate and enjoy using television, radio, print, and billboards so that everyone knows Our Farmers. Our Future.
Australian Year of the Farmer provides a great opportunity for dairy farmers to promote their industry. Don't wait around thinking that somebody else will do it; you the individual can start something. Whether it is an activity to educate the greater community about dairy farming, or simply a chance for local farmers to celebrate their achievement, the best ideas can come from the grass roots level. Perhaps you can join forces with other passionate farmers or take your idea to your local dairy discussion group.
Detailed information about AYOF is available on their website. An AYOF monthly newsletter, 'One Country' will provide updates on news and events, the latest competitions and opinions about farming in Australia.
What are you going to do in 2012 to celebrate?
Innovation Doubles Milk Production
Dairy farmers have remarkably doubled milk production over the last 30 years despite challenging market, financial and climatic conditions. This has been achieved even with the industry using substantially less land and a similar total number of cows.
Output per cow has nearly doubled and stocking rates per hectare and output per hectare have increased dramatically. Production has increased by almost triple from 2,878 litres per hectare in 1980 to an estimated 8,419 litres per hectare in 2010.
These are some of the findings from an evaluation jointly commissioned by the Department of Environment and Primary Industries, Victoria and Dairy Australia to determine the impact of government and industry investment from pre-farm research, development and extension to Victoria's and Australia's dairy industry form 1980-2010. The evaluation also aimed to capture learnings to inform future investment decisions.
The evaluation showed overall dairy industry production would have declined were it not for industry driven (internal) improvements over the past three decades There have been several factors external to the control of the industry, drought, increases in wages, fertiliser, fuel, electricity, water, transport and chemicals that overall have had a negative impact on growth.
The key industry driven changes were found to be:
- Better pasture production and utilisation;
- Use of supplementary feeding and its contribution to cow nutrition;
- Increased capacity of cows to use higher volumes of feed and convert feed more efficiently to milk;
- Close attention to animal health and welfare issues such as mastitis to avoid negative impacts on production;
- Economies of scale achieved from bigger farms and better shed infrastructure and management;
- Containment of emerging natural resource management issues arising as a result of farm intensification such as farm effluent management and fertiliser runoff;
- Better management and business skills;
- Adaptation of suitable technology and practices from overseas to Australian conditions.
Research, development and extension (RD&E) was found to be a major contributor to enable these improvements, particularly in pasture management, supplementary feeding and improved cow genetics. The part of RD&E in animal health and fertility and natural resource management has also been significant.
RD&E is estimated to account for almost half of total productions gains in Victoria's dairy industry. Innovation by farmers and others across the industry have also been important. It is estimated that for every dollar of the combined investment by industry and government of $2 billion in RD&E, there has been a benefit of at least $3.30. As a farmer's direct contribution through the dairy services levy is a moderate part of the total investment, their own return on investment is therefore many times this.
The lessons from the evaluation will help inform future investment in on-farm RD&E projects. For more information including a summary, the full evaluation reports, as well as a brief economic history of Victoria's dairy industry, please visit the DEPI and DA websites, www.depi.vic.gov.au/agriculture-and-food/dairy and www.dairyaustralia.com.au respectively.
Bull Selection – Independent Information At Your Fingertips
Ann McDowell, DEPI Camperdown
Bull selection is a job that comes around once or twice a year. The bulls you select will have a lasting effect on your herd – both the good ones and the bad. It is important to choose bulls that meet your breeding goals. It is not always easy to compare bulls on offer from different companies based on the material supplied by the companies themselves. However, independent information is available which allows you to compare bulls on the same scale.
The Australian Dairy Herd Improvement Scheme (ADHIS) is the keeper of the Australian Breeding Values (ABVs) for the Australian dairy industry; the measure of genetic merit under Australian conditions. Included in the ADHIS database are bulls with Australian proofs (ABV), bulls with genomic information (ABVg) and bulls with overseas proofs that have been converted by Interbull to reflect likely performance under Australian conditions (ABVi).
For any bull of interest you have a number of alternatives to examine his suitability for your situation.
The good bulls guide provides a simple way to compare bulls on some of the major traits of interest. It is updated and released twice a year – in both hard copy and on the ADHIS website, www.adhis.com.au. A number of lists are provided with the top bulls for key traits such as production or mastitis resistance.
DISPLAYABULL is available on the ADHIS web site and is a tool that allows you to search for any bull of interest and display the full ABV and pedigree information of any bull with an Australian proof, genomic data or Interbull information.
SELECTABULL is a tool that helps you find bulls that meet your particular needs. Available on the ADHIS website, you enter you own personalised breeding objective and SELECTABULL supplies you with a list of bulls that meet those requirements. You can then examine the full ABV listing before deciding which bulls should be part of your bull team. All of these tools are free to use, although you will need to register for SELECTABULL. DEPI and ADHIS offer free workshops to help you make the most of these tools.
For more information or to register you interest in a workshop, contact contact Ashleigh Michael at DEPI Leongatha on (03) 5622 9901.
Q: What did the pig say at the beach on a hot summer's day? A: I'm bacon!
Q: How do you know if your clock is crazy? A: It goes "cuckoo!"
Q: Why can't skeletons play church music? A: Because they have no organs.
Q: What do you get when you cross a parrot and a centipede? A: A walkie-talkie!
- Use strategies to keep the cows cool over summer to prevent a drop in both milk production and reproductive performance.
- Ensure cows have access to plenty of clean, fresh drinking water
- Check the young stock to make sure that they have enough water and feed so that they continue to grow at a rate that enables them to reach target weights.
- Drench stock that are due for treatment.
- Keep an eye out for pink eye.
- Check the cows' diet to make sure that their requirements are being met and the diet is balanced. If you're not sure, get someone out to help.
- Keep a close eye on haystacks, check them regularly for signs of heating and make sure you have insured them.
- How much of the feed you are feeding out is being wasted? How much is this wastage costing you? Have a think about ways you may be able to reduce this, even simple things such as feeding along fence lines or avoiding feeding out when the cows are in the paddock (i.e. chasing the tractor and trampling the feed) may make a difference.
- We've passed the half way mark for the financial year. Make sure you keep reviewing the budget and talking with you financial lenders and advisors.
- Don't forget the all-important issue of farm safety during the school holidays.
- Children under the age of 16 should not be riding four-wheeled motorbikes
INTERNATIONAL DAIRY WEEK
The 2012 International Dairy Week will be held from Sunday 15 January to Friday 20 at Tatura Park.
This year there will be free workshops and seminars held on Genomics & Economic Outlook, US Dairy Farms in Operation & Fertility and Pasture Management.
A Machinery and Trade Expo will be held on the 18th and 19th.
For more information, please contact Robyn Barber, telephone 9338 9259 or visit www.internationaldairyweek.com.au
2012 Australian Dairy Conference
The biggest event on the dairy industry calendar, the 2012 Australian Dairy Conference, will be held in Gippsland , February 20-24.
The event sponsorship and exhibition prospectus is on the conference website.
For more information, please contact Esther Price 1800 177 636 or visit www.australiandairyconference.com.au Rearing Healthy Calves Workshops - Febru- ary
Following the release last year of the Dairy Australia guidelines Rearing Healthy Calves—How to raise calves that thrive, Murray Dairy will be holding workshops for farmers in February.
The workshops will help farmers maintain industry best practices and understand recent changes in livestock standards.
If you are interested in participating in a Rearing Healthy Calves workshop, please register your interest with Murray Dairy, telephone (03) 5833 5312 or email email@example.com.