Dairy + Forestry – The Perfect Match – Graham Smith

So far, the season has been mild and grass growth favourable. I guess after the drought last year we were due some good fortune. Still, I am trying to put as much silage in the pit as possible, especially with the price of PKE holding up. Two silage cuts are in and the third cut is looking good for mid-December. After that if the conditions are favourable, I will go for a fourth cut, probably into bales. One year I managed five cuts, so who knows what may happen?

Then again, the pay-out is looking good so do I have to worry? It is all the little things that will trip you up if planning is not done.

The cow submission rate is on a par with last season, but the returns are definitely higher. The girls are in good condition, so we need to look for other reasons for their reluctance to hold. With grass also plentiful, the possible reasons are limited. The best theory I’ve heard so far is that the actual energy level in the grass is lower, and that, coupled with grass being available early, has kept the cows on a level plane of feeding instead of a rising plane. Those who feed supplements probably are having no problems because the energy of that would be more consistent. Now it is eight weeks since mating started, and the returns have ceased. This year I did an extra week of mating just to mop up those few late cyclers.

Production is on a par with last season and the girls vary day to day between 1.3 and 1.4 kg solids.

The pasture is looking nitrogen hungry currently and I will look to follow the cows to build feed for a longer round going into summer. With 200 mm rain in November I think growth has exceeded nutrient supply and a light dressing will spark things up again.

I had hoped to talk about carbon credits but although my claim has been accepted, I don’t know how much I have earned. I hope to give a more complete picture on that side of farming in a future blog. Our Land and Water put out some money for research. The successful applicants have to be a farmer (me), an advisor (Regan McCorquindale, Farmwise), and a research organisation (AgResearch). It is called the Rural Professionals Fund and Regan won in the funding round. So, research will be done here on the effects of trees on grass growth, so the effects of shading will be measured. This involves measuring the grass at three different distances from the trunk of the trees out into the paddock. This is done both before and after grazing so we can see if the cows have preferences as shading will change the flavour of the grass. The measurements take place with lines of trees aligned north-south and also east-west. On top of this, one paddock that is heavily shaded with 100 trees per hectare is also measured to measure its effect on growth. Pasture species will also be noted, as well as energy testing, to see what the pasture is delivering to the cows. The cows will be fitted with GPS transponders that will show how often and for how long cows seek shade. They will also record cudding time and activity of the cow. The herd will be split and get a day with shade available and then the next without to see how they respond. This is very topical currently, with the push to plant more trees. To me it is a no-brainer to provide shade and shelter for my girls and I prefer it to be natural if I can make it work. Long term this could lead to further research to prove or disprove the worth of trees.

I am a member of the Waikato Farm Forestry Association and we hold field days where we gather and share knowledge. Last week (3rd Dec) we met at Kiwi Lumber in Putaruru and had an informative tour through their processing plants. They are a big company producing specialised products for the USA home DIY market.

Following this we moved to Gray and Marilyn Baldwin’s property which borders Fonterra’s Lichfield factory. This is forestry and dairying at scale. The 220 ha dairy block carries up to 850 cows milked OAD for 400 kg a cow. This is a system 5 operation that incorporates 280 ha of forestry. The bulk of this is in pre-1990 pines which have been progressively felled with the good land cleared and planted with maize. All sidlings on this block and the dairy block are replanted in pines to offset carbon claims. With the inability to expand dairying onto the cleared land it is all planted in maize, of which 5000 tonnes is put into large bunkers and the rest sold. Upon harvest it is immediately under-sown with annual ryegrass. Two cuts of silage fill the remaining bunkers and then it is put back into maize. The large feed-pad can take 650 cows with all effluent collected after passing through a weeping wall system. The solid portion is spread on the maize paddocks in spring with the liquid stored until summer and then applied to land. Also, of interest is the large, constructed wetland which cleans virtually all of the run-off from the dairy pasture. This is subject to a lot of study with permanent metering stations installed. With all the sidlings and rougher land planted, the trees capture and clean any run-off giving a great environmental result.

The integration of dairy with forestry is in my opinion the way of the future, and although done in a different way to my operation is none the less effective. Gray and I are at opposite ends of the size spectrum but in the end we both want to milk cows and protect the environment.

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