Getting all the lowdown
To top pasture or not to top was among questions debated at the first monitor farm field day on the Marlborough Sounds property where Jason and Amber Templeman milk 400 cows.
Mahakipawa Farm is the only dairy monitor farm in the top of the South Island, so farmers travelled from Murchison and Tapawera as well as Marlborough to attend, along with agribusiness industry representatives.
At the back of the farm, people checked out pasture recently topped to remove stalk and seedheads.
Dairy New Zealand consulting officer Stephen Arends said topping removed poor quality pasture, leaving the best behind. Because cows were eating high energy grass, they consumed less per kilo of milk produced and spent less time sitting down digesting feed. FarmWise consultant Brent Boyce said topped grass bounced back better after rain.
This was debated by Lone Sorensen, of Okaramio, who asked whether in dry conditions the stalky top provided shade for sappy grass beneath.
Guest speaker Colin Armer said this was not a practice he would recommend on the 16 North Island farms he owns or the 58 South Island farms owned by Timaru-based Dairy Holdings, of which he is a one-third shareholder. He suggested that instead of feeding out palm kernel the Templemans could graze paddocks harder to avoid a base of dead material building up.
"Pack your mower up and go fishing," he said.
Field day followers also scrutinised feed in an eight-year-old front paddock growing about 50kg of dry matter/ha compared with about 120 on the Lincoln University farm near Christchurch. Why the difference, the group was asked.
The pivot irrigation used on the Lincoln farm was one reason, along with variable soil pH on the Sounds farm.
The paddock was irrigated with k-line sprinklers shifted once a day on a 12-day return, Mr Templeman said. Two shifts a day lifted production from 50-68kg, "but we would need to employ a fulltime irrigation shifter to keep this up".
Another dilemma was the disappointing 85 per cent of the 405 cows which went into oestrus in the first three weeks of artificial insemination. This was despite 54 having cidrs (controlled internal drug release devices) inserted to stimulate cycling.
A handout from veterinarian Nick Hansby said cows' pre-mating condition score ranged from 4.5 to 5 in mid-August, compared with the 5 for cows and 5.5 for heifers and rising three-year-olds the Templemans had aimed for. He suspected if younger cows calved at a condition score of 5.5, this might reduce non-cyclers and the need for cidrs.
Mr Templeman rejected splitting off lighter cows and non-cyclers into a once-a-day milking mob because running two herds along the single road at milking would be difficult and require extra labour.
Farmer and vet Megan Wilson, of Canvastown, said research showed going to once-a-day milking at the start of mating was unlikely to boost pregnancy rates.
Fifty-five hectares of the farm is on a year-to-year lease and Mr Templeman was concerned he could not secure a longer-term contract. Complicating the picture was the Marlborough District Council requiring that he build a crossing over Cullens Creek because of pollution caused by cows wading through to milking.
This was a big cost on a public road used by logging trucks when there was no guarantee his lease would continue, Mr Templeman said. The six forestry companies which used the road had refused to help pay.
When Mr Templeman took over the farm from his parents Robin and Sandy Templeman in 2010-11, it milked only friesians.
"To dad's disgust I put jersey bulls over the biggest friesians to bring the herd size down." Lighter cows were more suited to the daily 3.5km walk from the back of the farm to the milking shed and did less damage to wet pasture.
- The Marlborough Express