Optimum stocking rate - podcast transcription

Optimum stocking rate

Greg: Welcome to Dairy News. I’m Greg Mills and today I have with me Tony Dowman. A big question for many dairy farmers is how many cows should I be running for the area that I have? So if I’m trying to work out my optimum stocking rate, how do I actually do that?

Tony: Firstly you need to understand how much cows eat a year and the average cow eats about six tonnes of dry matter per year of which about four tonnes of that six tonnes needs to be in the form of forage, and preferably home grown forage because that’s the cheapest source of forage available and it also justifies why you own the land in the first place.

If your pasture utilisation figures is eight tonnes of dry matter per hectare per year and you want to have each cow eating four tonnes of that forage per year then obviously your stocking rate is two cows per hectare because two times four equals eight. If you’re utilising say, 12 tonnes of dry matter per hectare per year which is getting up to where we’d like to see farmers performing, then your stocking rate would then be about three cows per hectare is what you’d be running.

Very hard to get past that 12 tonnes of dry matter per hectare per year without starting to incorporate some form of cropping such as maize silage. Technically we can get over 40 tonnes of dry matter per hectare per year if you do triple cropping in the forms of say, maize silage and brassicas and ryegrass for argument’s sake. But that is a very intensive system to adopt, it is achievable, but if you start doing that then your stocking rate’s around about 10 cows per hectare per year.

So it always comes out about the same if you think that each cow really needs to eat four tonnes of dry matter of home grown feed, and I don’t care whether the cows eat that directly or it goes via a hayshed or your silage pit, as long as that’s coming off from home grown feed. Then that means your business is in the most profitable part.

Greg: Looking at business profit, what sort of key performance indicators would I be looking at to see whether I am at that optimum stocking rate?

Tony: You really need to know your pasture utilisation, your tonnes of dry matter per hectare per year. That’s calculated by looking at how much purchased feed comes onto the property which then gets discounted off the total milk production to work out how many litres of milk was produced from home grown feed. From that we can then calculate what was the tonnes of dry matter per hectare grown That’s a really good indicator as to whether you’re in the profit zone or not, and would also tell you what your stocking rate should be.

The other one is the cost of home grown feed. There’s not much point growing home grown feed at $300 per tonne if you can buy it for $250 a tonne. We need to get the cost of home grown feed somewhere between probably $100 and $125, $130 a tonne or home grown feed on today’s prices is where we really need to be otherwise why own the land because land ownership is all about growing feed for cows.

Greg: So looking at that, people who are considering maybe moving more from a pasture system towards a feed lotting system or feeding more on pads and more introduced feed, is there money in that and if there is, how do you decide whether there is?

Tony: With a feed lot dairy for argument’s sake, the first question I would ask is "Where’s the feed coming from?" Is it coming off your land and you’re basically cut and carrying, or do you just have a very, very small block of land with the cows on it and then you are purchasing all the feed from somebody else to grow the feed for you? If it’s your own land growing the feed, the same principles apply. You really need to have the cows eating about four tonnes of your feed per year and as I said before, it doesn’t matter whether it goes straight down the animal’s neck or going via the hayshed or silage pit and ending up being fed on your feed pad, the [nafs 3:51] works out exactly the same.

If you’re going to go pure feed lotting what you’ve got to do then is say "Well what’s the money I’ve saved without land ownership?" and that’s the money that you’re going to invest in paying the higher price of purchased feed. Then you just do the sum and say "Well, the profit or return on investment for my feed lot dairy is this much, where the return on investment for a pasture based system is going to be something different. Which ones makes me the most money and also gives me the most enjoyment at the end of the day," is the system that you’ll tend to gravitate towards.

Greg: Thank you Tony.


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