12. DAIRY FARM MANAGEMENT

12.1 Identifying Problems and Constraints

This manual does not attempt to cover every factor of issue which affects farm performance rather we will cover a broad outline of the factors affecting decision making on the farm and examine in some detail some of the major constraints to production and methods of minimising these constraints.

The first question one must ask is: what is wrong with things as they are?

There is only a problem if the farmer wants or needs to improve:

e.g.

-to produce more

-make more money

-get a better return from labour

-comply with a law or local convention

-other personal reason

If the farmer wishes to improve production, he/she needs to consider firstly how the farm is operating at present:

-what and how much of each product is the farm producing?

-what are the daily activities?

-what amount of land, money and time is involved in producing each product?

-which products are the most profitable?

-how does production of different products inter-relate?

What are the main factors stopping the farmer from increasing performance? [constraints]

-It may be that one crop uses up all the available supply of some limited resource, such as working capital, water or labour. This crop may be very profitable but if it means that other resources [such as land] can not be fully farmed, say because of a labour shortage, then the farmer may riot be gaining the best benefit from the total farm system.

Through this process of farm assessment the farmer is well placed to make the best decisions regarding changes on the farm,

The constraints that we will discuss are those which can most often be minimised through traming in practical farm work techniques [and appropriate technology, farm management and the adoption of improved animal care and management as well as improved forage species, and supplements.

Given training, the farmer can decide how and when to adjust the types and balance of crops, pastures and livestock in the farm system, in order to plan and carry out a programme of development.

More appropriate types of plants and animals can be raised which are not affected by the constraints to production.

12.2 Pasture Management for Dairy Farmers

Good pasture management is one of the most important aspects of successful dairy production. Once an improved grass-legume pasture is established it can remain productive and weed free, providing large amounts of good quality feed for dairy cows, bulls, and young stock for many years. This will occur so long as the person managing the farm follows some simple rules, as follows:

 

12.2.1 Stocking rate [SR]

Maintaining the appropriate stocking rate is perhaps the most important rule of pasture management. The right stocking rate will vary from farm to farm, depending on;

- soil fertility

- annual rainfall and its distribution

- whether the pasture is shaded or unshaded

- pasture variety (improved Vs unimproved)

- use of fertiliser

- pests and diseases of the pasture

Stocking rate is generally expressed in terms of animal units per hectare. One animal unit is equivalent to one cattle beast weighing 450 kg. Thus an animal of with a liveweight of 600 kg = 1.33 au, whilst one weighing 225 kg = 0.5 au. This is based on the assumption that the daily feed requirement of cattle is a constant percentage of their body weight: 3% of body weight in good quality pasture dry matter. This is not completely accurate as the percentage will vary for different ages of stock and quality of feed and level of production, never the less it is a very valuable yardstick which will allow a farmer or adviser to match demand and supply of feed in such a way as to achieve high desired sustainable production of milk and or beef.

As an example, the average the carrying capacity (SR) of improved (batiki + legume) pastures is;

Open Pastures -2.5 au/ha

Under coconuts -2.0 au/ha

These stocking rates represent the balance at which animal and plant [pasture] production can be sustained.

Assessing the appropriate level of stocking

The farm manager should monitor the feed supply (pasta re) availability of the farm at least twice a week. The purpose of this is to match feed supply (pasture growth) with the needs of the animals. Small fluctuations in feed supply due to short periods without rain can normally be accounted for by a little supplementary feeding with elephant grass or similar. If on the other hand pasture availability is too little or too much, changes in the way the farm is run should be made as soon as possible, as even though it may not be observable, production will be suffering.

If rotational grazing is used, the pasture should be about 30 cm high (mid-calf) when the cows start grazing and about 15 cm high (just above the ankle) when cows are removed. Under set stocking pasture should be of even height, about 15 - 20 cm.

Figure 13 and 14.

PASTURE AT MID CALF HEIGHT PASTURE AT ABOVE ANKLE

HEIGHT

Other indicators of incorrect SR are;

1 - more weeds observed in the pasture,- SR is too high.

2 - pasture height uneven , with tall clumps of grass, - SR is too low

What to do if SR is not appropriate

Too High?

This can easily happen, because the area grazed is limited but animals tend to grow and multiply.

Action to restore a good feed supply Should be taken urgently as if a milking cow 5 feeding is reduced for any length of time it is very difficult to make up losses in production later. The farmer has two alternatives,

1 - Increase the feed supply by;

a/ using more fertiliser, which should be spread evenly over the whole grazing area. Price and availability varies from country to country, for the most appropriate fertiliser, consult your local extension officer and Agricultural supplier. should be spread evenly over the whole grazing area. This should be repeated every six months. The stocking of the farm should probably not be raised higher than its current level.

b/ practising supplementary feeding or zero grazing, cut and carry grass and legumes are suitable in this case. To allow the pastures to grow back again, as much area as possible should be closed from grazing for about 3 weeks which given rain should allow it time to recover, after this it should be stocked at the appropriate stocking level by the milking cows. The balance of the stock should be held on the rest of the farm, as small an area as possible leaving as much as possible for milk production. Higher than normal levels of supplementary feeding to the dairy cows is also necessary.

2 - Decrease the stocking rate, either by

a/ increasing the total grazed area, i.e. fencing more land or tethering some cattle outside the fenced area, such as roadsides and cropping land which have been harvested. This will effectively decrease the average stocking rate per hectare.

b/ sell some animals. This is a practice that all farmers must consider, particularly those with only small farms. To ensure the best animal health, production and profits from the farm animal numbers must be limited. This also adds to the farmers income through the sale of unneeded, old and unproductive animals.

The Farmer needs to answer these questions

1. What is the main purpose of the farm?

2. Which cattle are necessary to obtain the objective.

Sample Answers:

1. The main purpose in this example is to earn income from milk sales.

2. The necessary animals are:

heifer calves

yearling heifers

2 yr heifers

milking cows

bulls - (1 for every 30 cows)

Below is an example of an overstocked situation and how a farm manager can assess the ideal stocking rate and go about adjusting the herd to Suit.

12.2.2 Calculation of Farm Carrying Capacity

A small holder farm of 12 ha, of which:

9 ha pasture tinder 40 year old coconuts

3 ha open pasture

12ha 9@ 2au/ha = 18

3@ 2.5 au/ha = 7.5

25.5 animal units total capacity

Table 3 - Stock on the farm at the start of the exercise

Class of Animal

No. Animal

LW

Au/Animal

Au/Class of Animal

Calves

Heifer

4

100

0.22

0.88

Bull

4

100

0.22

0.88

Yearling

Heifer

4

250

0.56

2.24

Steers & bulls

3

250

0.56

1.67

2 yrs

Heifer

4

450

1

4.0

Steers & bulls

3

450

1

3.0

3 - 7 yrs

Milking cows

10

500

1.11

11.1

MA steers

5

500

1.11

5.55

MA bulls

2

700

1.56

3.12

Old dry

Cows

3

450

1

3

TOTAL

42 [Animals]

35.44 [au]

N.B. MA = Mixed Age

 

The correct carrying capacity is estimated at 25.5 au therefore the farm is over stocked by 9.9 4 au(35.44-25.5 9.94).

The farmer should therefore consider the best way to reduce the number of animal units carried on the grazed area. (for simplicity we will not include using fertiliser in this example). The 2 main factors mentioned above should be applied in choosing which cattle should go (sold, tethered outside the fence, yard fed or transferred to another farm).

Table 4 - Farm herd structure

Class of Animal

No. Animal

Au/Class

Calves

Heifer

5

1.1

Bull

5

1.1

1 yr

Heifer

4

2.24

Bull

0

2 yr

Heifer

4

4.00

Bull

0

Milking

cows

13

14.43

Herd

Bulls

1

1.56

1 yr

bull

1

0.56

Old

Cows

0

TOTAL

24.99

 

So a farm with about 25.5 au could be structured as follows:

This maximises the number of productive animals [milking cows] whilst balancing the stocking rate with the carrying capacity.

Actions taken to make the change were

1. All old non productive cows sold

2. Sale of excess bulls

3. Sale of all bull calves as weaners

4. Sale of one weaner heifer (keep the best)

5. Sale of 3 yrs steers

Sale of 3 2 yrs steers

Sale of 5 mixed age steers

The following increases are made

1. purchase of a 1 year bull (to avoid inbreeding)

2. Increase in milking cows

3. Increase in calves

 

Table 5. Changes made in restructuring the herd

Before

After

Diff.

Diff. [au]

Calves

H

4

5

+1

+0.22

B

4

5

+1

+0.22

YR 1

H

4

4

0

0

B

3

0

-3

-1.68

YR 2

H

4

4

0

0

B

3

0

-3

-3

Milking

Cows

10

13

+3

+3.33

MA

Steers

5

0

-5

-5.55

Herd

Bulls

2

1

-1

-1.56

Old

Cows

3

0

-3

-3

Young

Bulls

0

1

+1

+0.56

Net reduction off 10.46 au. (4.33 - 14.79)

 

By restructuring the herd, the farmer has simplified the operation and been able to increase the number of productive animals i.e. cows by 3.

This will increase the milk production. Production increases as a result of better feeding would be expected to be in the order of:

1. Decrease in calving interval from 540 to 410 days would increase annual calving percentage.

2. Milk production per lactation would increase by approx. 100% or more per cow.

A Note on Pasture Management

Good pasture management is more important in dairy farming than in beef production. This is because

1. Expenses (and returns) tend to be higher, therefore all aspects of management need to be good to combine to a high level of production.

2. Whilst beef animals are to some extent able to rely on compensatory growth to even out low production of beef caused by periods of poor or low quantity feeding, dairy cows cannot so easily recoup lost milk production, after poor feeding.

Good pasture management is: producing constant large quantities of good quality forage to be converted into useful products by grazing cattle year after year.

12.2.3 Grass-Legume Balance

The pasture should ideally contain at least 20% legume (leaf) on a DM (dry matter) basis High legume content increases the protein content and per cow intake of the pasture.

High legume content can be encouraged by:

1. planting recommended pasture legumes

2. good management of newly planted pastures/legumes encouraging their spread in the pasture, during the first 12 months especially.

3. strategic heavy grazing in the early wet season to encourage germination of aruinal legumes such as Glenn jointvetch,

4. the use of phosphate fertilisers.

  1. Pasture Growth Stage

The grass tends to be the dominant plant in an improved pasture. Whilst tropical grasses are highly effective at photosynthesis and thus compete well for space and light they tend to be very low in crude protein. Tropical grasses tend to have decreasing levels of protein and as they mature (leaf age). The critical crude protein level is 7% by DM of the diet. Below this feed intake is depressed as the cow can't digest feed quickly enough in turn production is depressed. As an example, batiki is the major pasture grass in Samoa and tends to have a low CP% which falls quickly with leaf age (and increasing stem). Grasses should be kept young and leafy with a short grazing interval.

12.2.5 Rotational Grazing

This type of grazing will allow the farmer to graze the pasture and then leave it to recover. Portable electric fences are an effective, low cost method of controlling the grazing area and daily pasture allocation.

The length (in days) of the rotation may have to vary a little

e.g. Shorter when the grass is tending to seed, this should help to promote vegetative growth.

If conditions are dry, the rotation may have to lengthen a little so that, when the cows enter a new paddock they are offered the same amount of feed i.e. 25-30 cm high. This will mean leaving them on the paddock a little longer and therefore the "residuals' (amount of pasture left) will be less than usual. This is only recommended for a short time and supplements should be increased in this case.

Worm burdens tend be less under rotational than continuous grazing.

12.3 The Use of Fertiliser

It is widely accepted internationally that to achieve high production levels over the long term, fertiliser inputs are necessary. The basic idea being that something is being removed from the agrisystem i.e. coconuts, meat, milk, - then something must be returned i.e. essential nutrients N,P,K,S (+ micro nutrients) otherwise the productive capacity (soil fertility) will decline overtime. Perhaps this is best described as land stewardship: ensuring that you are able to hand the land to your children in at least as good a condition as you received it from your parents.

12.3.1 Maintenance Fertiliser

The principle of maintaining the productive capacity of the land should be followed, fertiliser policies which farmers can apply for pasture development and maintenance in all cattle raising areas need to be prepared, your MAF may be able to advise you on this.

12.3.2 Strategic Use of Fertiliser

Fertiliser can be used to boost pasture plant growth in order to overcome (quickly) problems such as short term feed shortages and weed problems.

Banana fertiliser (NPK: 12-5-20) has been shown (Lee SD 1995) to be highly beneficial in controlling mintweed (H capucita) and navua sedge (K polyphylla) in pastures. Spread at 100kg/ha, the fertiliser boosts batiki grass growth, enabling it to compete more strongly and thus smother (exclude from light) the 2 weed species. Note: Mintweed should be slashed to the ground at the time of fertiliser application. Also the cattle should be excluded from the area for about six weeks to allow the grass to grow.