SEEING a way through a dry summer is very important for helping to manage the stress levels.
One thing past experiences tells us is that we can get through tough seasons. The first suggestion is to set some time aside and develop a feed plan to get through, if you haven’t already.
Given we have less home-grown feed this season, the first thing we need to do is put together a revised feed plan for at least the next five to six months.
Will I purchase feed to fill the feed shortage? How much will I purchase, what type and when?
Forage (pasture, crop, silage and hay) needs to make up at least half the diet.
Concentrates (grain, etc) may well be cheaper per unit of energy and protein than good quality fodder, so look at the least cost option to do the job, remembering there is a limit to how much grain we can have in the ration.
Check the Hay and Grain report on the Dairy Australia website to get a feel for the market and prices.
While it is best to do a more detailed feed budget, a quick one might be a starting point.
A milking cow typically eats about 18kg of dry matter (can be more or less than this depending on size and production).
Say you intend feeding 6kg of grain, then fodder needs to make up 12kg per cow per day.
Some of the diet will come from pasture and crop and this is the crystal ball bit of the exercise as it is hard to predict how much will grow.
If you do the numbers on say 10kg dry matter of silage and hay per cow per day, how does this compare to your reserves for the next five to six months? Not even close? Time to do a more detailed budget? Should I reduce feed demand?
Feed demand may be reduced through reducing stock numbers or feeding less per cow. When feed is tight, it can be better to feed fewer cows well, than to under-feed more cows.
Remember to keep one eye on next season and one eye on this season. We don’t want cows in poor condition at calving next year.
We don’t want to reduce our herd any more than necessary.
Given most farms replace 20 per cent of their cows with heifers, perhaps selling those cows earlier is a consideration this season.
Sparing this feed for the remaining cows will actually result in more milk being produced (you will have reduced the maintenance energy requirements).
In addition, the cows will have a higher cull value compared to selling when they have lost condition.
This may be an important source of cash flow. Once a day milking can be used to reduce cow feed demand while having a smaller effect on cow condition.
Talk to someone about the pros and cons, as it is not as simple as just milking once a day. Typically, milk production drops (reportedly by 20 per cent or more) and cell count rises.
The result of a dry season is milk production (and hence income) will probably be down and feed costs will probably be up. So the margin over feed costs will be lower.
This means non-feed expenditure needs to be adjusted, where possible.
From a feeding perspective, what we are trying to do is make high a margin over feed costs as possible so we have can cover as much of the non-feed expenses as possible.
Obviously purchased feed costs, so is an expense, but provided the income from the extra milk is greater than the cost of the extra feed, then we are better off having made the extra expenditure on feed.
If confused about the economics of feeding, talk to someone you trust. Your financier might have trouble coming to grips with your need for cash to pay feed bills, so they may need to be part of the planning too.
Your feed plan also needs to cover what feed will be fed when.
The biggest challenge is to avoid feeding all your supplements early and have a big feed hole later that is almost impossible to fill.
A plan for rationing out your feed (eg how much will be fed each month), will also tell you whether you are able to sustain your stock numbers and/or you need to rethink your feed plan.
Finally, it is important to look after your health and keep an eye on those around you.
For more information contact Greg.O’Brien@ecodev.vic.gov.au