On the count down to a winter break – Brian Frost

In five more sleeps Frostie and Mrs. Frostie are flying away from the wet to enjoy a few weeks with friends in Alaska (amongst other places). This has been long in the planning, and the timing is probably not the best as it has worked out, things have changed on the farm since the planning began. We fly out on 31st May and in early June we have new managers starting, a new company picking up the milk, new tenants shifting into the rental and new yards being built on the run off – nothing like a bit of pressure before we go away. Looking forward to sleeping on the plane!

The dry weather had certainly been more of an issue through the autumn than it was in the summer, creating a few challenges running into the end of an already difficult season, but now we have mud!!  But with that the grass is growing which is definitely an improvement.

On the farm

Currently we have 309 cows on farm all grazing 1.5 days/paddock (1 ha/day = 65 – 70 day round) + 6.5 kg/cow/day of meal + ¼ – ½ kg/cow/day of molasses + 5 – 5.5 kg DM/cow/day of maize silage.

Production to date is 165,562 kg MS, compared with 163,624 kg MS at the same time last season. Current production is 5 – 5.1 kg MS/ha/day and 1.2 – 1.3 kg MS/cow/day. Cow condition is 5 – 5.2.

Zinc is going through the water at full rates and Triple Mix is going on the maize.

BF new grass16The average pasture cover is 1,537 kg DM/ha. The pasture cover targets are 1,700 – 1,800 kg DM/ha in late May and 2,100 – 2,200 kg DM/ha in late June. The new pasture is looking great and establishing really well. The round extended out to 60ish days while the new grass area was out and we are edging out to 70 days as the new grass area comes back into the round. When the cows start being dried off the round will start to extend naturally to get out to the 100+ day round for winter.

Drying off
We dried off all the cows due to calve before 5th August on the 25th May. There are around 150 cows in this group, leaving 150 – 160 cows milking. On 25th June the cows calving in the first half of August will be dried off, there are around 40 – 50 cows in this group, leaving 100 – 110 cows milking plus the heifers who have calved from 16th June (10ish). On 5th July, the rest of the spring calvers will be dried off, there are around 40 – 50 cows in this group, leaving 65 empty cows milking, plus 50 heifers, plus the early spring cows starting.

Weed control
Even in this low payout, weed spray is still very important. Using Pasturekleen, Relay, Baton, or equivalent, is right for paddocks without chicory, but the chicory paddocks need Valdo, Preside, or equivalent. This is such a key part to maintain an excellent pasture sward and ensure we grow and harvest as much high quality pasture as possible.

BF cows

Run off

The run off looks great and is growing a lot of excellent pasture. The aim will be to run this feed out over the next 3 months – by the time the spring calvers all head back to the dairy farm to calve! At present 90 weaned 2015 calves are getting 5 days/paddock + grass silage and 56 in-calf heifers + 26 dry cows are getting 7 days/paddock + 4 kg DM/day of maize silage.

Notes from our farm advisor

Other notes from our farm advisor that might be of interest.

Cost of production
With the challenging financial times over the last two years there has rightly been increasing talk of managing costs on farm and the ‘cost of production’ is becoming a common topic.

This is clearly very good to continue to remind us to watch the costs involved in our business, but unfortunately the message about how to improve your cost of production is neither consistent nor helpful to actually achieve the intended goal.

Reduce costs
Obviously, looking at how costs can be reduced is always important and should be done regularly – especially in lower payouts.

It pays to keep costs in two categories: those that directly affect production and those that don’t. This helps to ensure that when costs that directly affect production are taken out, that production is also budgeted to be reduced.

The main and significant problem with this plan is that a lot of costs on farm are in fact pretty well fixed and therefore as production drops (as some ‘variable’ costs are reduced) then the actual cost of production with the fixed costs lifts. I have picked up a number of new clients this year who have fallen into this exact trap, where they have followed some popular advice and dropped out some costs, but have lost significant production as a result, causing a significant lift (not drop) in their cost of production. This is a common problem I also hear from outside my consultancy group and while some figures may argue farm working expenses are lower, once adding in the fixed costs of the business, the total cost of production is actually higher when production falls away too much.

Increase productivity
There is so much focus being given to reducing costs that the more important aspect of the equation is being lost – that being lifting productivity.

If costs are maintained but productivity is lifted, then the ‘cost of production’ will decrease a lot quicker than if you try and reduce costs without dropping too much production.

With the falling costs of supplements at the moment, there is more opportunity to lower the cost of production by actually lifting the amount of supplement being used while still lowering the total feed cost at the same time as lifting productivity.

This will significantly reduce the cost of production – way more than trying to reduce costs that have already been stripped down over the last 2 years of lower payouts.

Target numbers
I’m not a big fan of trying to compare between farms with these numbers, as they are often calculated differently and don’t always cater for very different farming operations – where some have no unpaid labour and some have no grazing but high interest costs for run offs etc. etc.

However, as a general guideline, we have seen cost of production numbers drop from around $4.50 – $5 / kg MS in the high payout years down to around $3.50 / kg MS this season.

I would like to think that on higher productivity farms, we should be able to see this drop further to closer to $3 / kg MS next season or $3.50 / kg MS on tougher farming country.

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