September 16, 2008

Balancing a pasture feed budget

It's a rare feed budget that balances first time, and if it does, you should always go back and check to see if all the inputs were correct and decimal places didn't get moved to right or left. Be more suspicious of surpluses than deficits as if they are not real and you get all excited to use them, you could be in very deep and costly trouble. Consider these points in making management decisions.

Managing a Feed Deficit
With a deficit there are three things you can do – some are good ideas and some are not. Remember you have to consider the farm, your management, the staff workload as well as the bank manager. A bankers doesn't like surprises as they ruin their day. Here's what you can do:

1.Reduce feed demand

· Sell all cull and surplus stock that are not earning their keep.

· Draft stock on the basis of their Condition Score and give the low CS stock the best feed.

· Dry off some milking cows (the thin ones) or milk the remainder once a day. In a severe drought dry the whole herd off.

  1. Increase the feed supply.

· Feed out supplements if you have them.

· If you don't have supplements, finance will have to be found to buy them in. Hay, silage and balage are the most common but it could be worth searching out other sources such as surplus vegetables or fruit.

· Apply Nitrogen fertiliser if conditions are right. This means a 10cm soil temperature above 6°C for ryegrass and plenty of soil moisture. You will have to predict the response and unless it's at least 10:1 wait till conditions improve. A 10:1 response means you get 10kg of DM for every 1kg of Nitrogen in the fertiliser.

· Graze animals off the farm but check the Tb status where they are going to before you move them.

· Slow down the rotation to give the pastures time to grow. But you'll need to feed supplements during this time to make up the difference.

  1. Reduce production targets
    • Delay the date of making silage.
    • If you have paddocks shut up for silage or hay, open the gates and feed it to the stock.
    • Accept that your cows will not achieve your Condition Score targets and this will affect their performance and your profits. This is not a good decision but it may have to be accepted.
Managing a Feed Surplus
  • If your budget shows a feed surplus, first double check the calculations, or get someone else to do this. When I taught students feed budgeting, many a feed surplus was a misplaced decimal point!
  • Don't tell anyone (and certainly not your boss) that there looks to be a surplus until you have double-checked the figures.
  • If it's a true surplus, then take a deep breath – for a short while.
  • Immediately start to worry about how to make sure the feed will be utilised most efficiently, and that waste will be avoided at all costs. Waste is money down the drain.
  • Feed the stock more so they can turn the surplus pasture DM into body condition, and enjoy looking at them!
  • Sell some surplus silage or hay – when prices go crazy again.
  • Take on some graziers to provide extra weekly income.
  • Buy some stock to graze the surplus feed but realise that this may not be a great money earner.

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