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The future of dairying in NZ – Optimising Pasture Based Systems

While the number of cows in NZ has increased over the past 20 years, the milk production per cow has not increased at the same rate.

Howard de Klerk, Dairy Nutrition and Management

Extra milk production has come from increasing cow numbers and increasing area for grazing cows. At the same time there has also been a large increase in debt per milk solid relative to the milk price.

Recent changes in environmental regulation means there will be no more increases in area for dairy. As such, the only way to increase milk production is to increase milk production per cow.

As we increase milk production per cow, more of the dry matter (as a percentage) is used for milk production versus body maintenance.

Barriers to increasing milk production per cow have become confused in the messages provided to farmers, for example:

  • Response rates to supplement
  • Substitution
  • Marginal analysis and hidden costs.

Key understandings required to respond to these messages are:

  • Cows on 100% pasture diets can only consume a dry matter intake determined by bite rate, bite mass and grazing time. Estimated at 3.4% of body weight. Feeding concentrates reduces the grazing time by on average 12 minutes/kg dry matter.
  • While a small substitution does occur with concentrate feeding, the net gain is 9 MJME or 112 gMS per kg concentrate fed.
  • The optimum level for concentrate feeding is to increase to a point where the margin return is the same as the marginal cost.
  • Be careful when comparing costs and profit. Make sure it is compared on a per litre or milk solid basis.

Farmers need to optimise profitability to payback debt.

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