Sunday, July 3, 2022

Pushing pasture as a priority

Excellent pasture management is the key driver for Morrinsville farmer Dave Muggeridge, the joint winner of the Waikato and Bay of Plenty Pasture Renewal Persistence competition.

The judges, AgResearch scientist Tom Fraser and last year’s winner Andrew Myers, said the quality of the three-year-old pastures had high levels of white clover and a low volume of weeds as a result of good, ongoing management before and after sowing.

The judges didn’t select a winner from the first-year pasture category this year, choosing instead two winners for the three-year pasture category.

“We didn’t think the first-year pastures we saw were off to the outstanding start we were looking for,” Myers said.

This was because of low levels of white clover establishment, high weed populations and evidence of winter pasture damage from pugging.

Dave and Mary Muggeridge bought their 90ha effective farm on SH27 seven years ago. The soil was excellent but there was poor infrastructure, leading them to re-fence the entire farm. That led to one paddock being re-grassed in April 2009 with Commando AR37, sown with Tribute and Emerald white clover at a rate of 22kg/ha. It went straight from old pasture to new pasture. It was sprayed with Roundup, ploughed, rolled repeatedly, then after some rain it was power-harrowed, rolled, sowed and rolled in the same day.

“I think about every seed germinated,” Dave said, adding the paddock resembled a thick lawn in the first year.  

He wanted to ease into its grazing, so started by putting 100 cows on the paddock for about two hours. For the second grazing the paddock was put into two breaks and the cows were taken off after a few hours, when they had grazed to 1500kg dry matter (DM)/ha. This continued until August, when the paddock became part of the normal round, which in winter is 90 days. It is 18 days in spring and 25-30 days in summer.

Dave has a strict no-pugging policy and the cows are taken off the paddocks if it is too wet. He said pasture had always been his priority as a dairy farmer.

“I’ve designed a farm policy here around good pasture management. The policy is the first thing I give to anyone I’m going to employ and they have to buy into it to get the job.”

The contract milkers do a farm walk every Monday with a plate meter to monitor the grass growth. That information is correlated to determine the best paddocks for the next 14 days, so the cows are always going on to the best pasture possible.

Dave describes his farm system as “one and a bit”, because he buys in palm kernel to top up his feed supply.

“I’m a hole filler,” he said.

“We monitor the pasture every week so we know where the holes are going to be. We make sure the cows are getting fed the same every day.

“Everything I do has to make a return though, even palm kernel.”

That sentiment is reflected in the farm’s profit. The farm is sitting in the top 5% of its group in DairyBase, with an operating profit of $3827/ha, well above the benchmark of $2135/ha.

The farm is currently milking 270 cows producing 110,000kg milksolids (MS). Production leapt from 86,000kg MS in 2008/09 because of the new fencing and infrastructure, which has allowed better pasture management and more production, which Dave aims to keep increasing as he gets more out of the pasture.

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