OPINION: Owl Farm had been blessed with a real farmer’s summer through to autumn until two cyclones put a proper dampener on the district. Until that point it had promoted excellent growth of pasture and crops, which are the absolute backbone of our farming system.
This type of tailwind has meant we saved more of our grass silage to use over winter. The cows also made more milk than we would usually expect for this time of year because of the better quality feed from grass and more of it than normal.
Both of these are really helpfully heading straight to the bottom line as profit. Despite the good grass growth that has occurred though, we’ve still had to manage other annual challenges on the farm.
One of the activities we have been dealing with the undesirable grass species that are inherent in many of our unimproved pastures.
* Summer management on track for settled milk production at Owl Farm
* Owl Farm gets a pass mark in half year review
* Pasture programme makes worst paddocks the best at Owl Farm
One block of the farm with a lighter more friable soil type, has suffered from poor pasture persistence over the years. This effectively creates voids within the pasture where ryegrass no longer exists and opportunistic weed-grasses like summer grass are prevalent and dominant in these paddocks.
They provide limited nutritional value over the summer months – they are actually green and growing – but at the first sign of cooler weather they turn turtle and die.
With the autumn tailwind this year we have been really aggressive with our re-grassing programme and reduced our number of unimproved paddocks.
We now have over 50 per cent of the farm that will benefit from additional growth and pasture quality as a result of:
Our other big challenge, is that Owl Farm is often heavily impacted by facial eczema and we’ve been extremely vigilant in monitoring this year. With the potential cost of an eczema outbreak heading into the tens of thousands of dollars, the cost of prevention is always the prudent course.
After much consideration, the decision was made to give each cow a zinc bolus in February before the challenge period began.
We then monitored both faecal zinc levels and spore counts from pasture, allowing us to see how much residual zinc protection the cows had at any point in time. In late March, this level was beginning to reduce, meaning the cows were losing their protection.
The spore counts allow us to see the amount of eczema challenge cows are having to endure. A spore count of about 30,000 is historically considered “high”. Last year, spore counts rose into the millions – which represented an astronomical challenge causing widespread losses throughout the North Island.
This year, regular spore count monitoring that we do showed our levels in the high tens of thousands, up to 90,000 in early April.
Having this information available, made our decision to give cows a second zinc bolus in April quite an easy one to make. Spore counts crept up to 100,000 in mid-April and are still about 70,000 at the end of April.
It’s not exactly an inexpensive exercise, but when you consider the value of a cow to be about $2000 – it makes the bill easier to swallow.
Owl Farm’s next Focus Day on May 17 is going to quantify the improvements in home grown feed harvested and what it all means for the coming season’s plan.