Data informs decisions

By Country News on March 21, 2016

After a slow start, Kelvin and Shelley Matthews, and Don and Meg Stewart are starting to see some good information flow through as part of Murray Dairy’s Accelerating Change project at Pyramid Hill.

Data collected from five moisture probes is being utilised to make informed business decisions on-farm, and regular pasture sampling is starting to pay off.

``The project did get off to a slow start, but now the probes are in the ground and the monitoring has begun we are really starting to see some results,’’ Mr Matthews said.

``We have made a few changes to our grazing.

``I found we were probably grazing the lucerne a bit too late previously, and by moving that forward we are now hitting it at the optimum time, giving the cows that extra protein and energy.’’

The nutritive sampling conducted to date has revealed the lucerne pasture has an ME of 11.5MJ/kg DM, crude protein of 33.2 per cent and neutral detergent fibre (NDF) of 34.2 per cent, making it a far higher quality than the group initially expected.

Working with a nutritionist, the business has been able to work out the cows were receiving an extra 30MJ ME/day than was needed.

The business has since reduced each cow’s grain intake by 1kg/day, a significant saving over the 500-cow herd.

The installation of the Observant capacitance probes has generated a fair bit of debate amongst the group about how to use them effectively.

Two probes have been set up on similar lucerne paddocks but different watering strategies are being applied — one follows the moisture probe and seems to be averaging three waterings and two grazings, while the other is receiving one watering and one grazing, regardless of what the probe says.

The other three probes have been set up on permanent pasture. One is on pasture watered on an eight-day cycle as per ‘normal’ management; another is on pasture watered using data from the probe, which appears to be every 10 to 12 days; and the last is on pasture that has been dried off and will be watered in March.

The group is hoping to collate the results at the end of the three-year program and have some concrete information about irrigation and growth rates.

``I have more confidence in my own watering decisions now and I have changed my thoughts a little,’’ Mr Matthews said.

``I seem to be able to get an extra five days out of a paddock before it needs to be watered, and while this doesn’t change how much water I use, I am able to utilise the resource better and achieve better growth rates.’’

Mr Matthews said it was great to be challenged by the discussions generated by the group.

At the last meeting there was some debate about baling lucerne compared to grazing.

Mr Matthews is a firm believer in grazing as much of his pasture as he can.

``Grazing is the cheapest way to farm. I would prefer to graze everything we have than use expensive equipment to make hay,’’ he said.

``With a farm my size I can’t be everywhere, so if I can measure the grass and it is at a certain feed quality I am more then happy to turn the cows in there and graze it.’’
The Stewart property currently has 75ha of lucerne; next season, Mr Matthews is hoping to sow another 15ha.

``Lucerne is a great summer feed and if I can give the cows two green feeds a day then I am happy,’’ he said.

``Part of this project is to look at different species to work out what is ideal for us to grow.’’

Eventually Mr Matthews is hoping to have a third of the farm sown to Lucerne; and, despite the current tough conditions, he still believes his future lies firmly in dairying.

``I am hoping to buy this place eventually and I still think there is a great future for us here.’’

By Country News on March 21, 2016

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