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  • Emily House

Why Pasture Testing is a “Must Do” This Spring

What’s your motto this spring? How about “Test and Save”?

Mineral Systems encourages spring pasture testing to evaluate the risks of dietary changes and check supplementation and fertiliser requirements. Pasture testing gives the detail you need to make informed decisions around animal health, feeding and the effects of fertiliser use.

Below is a breakdown of the operating expenditure for Dairy and Sheep & Beef farms.

Dairy Operating Expenses* Beef & Sheep Operating Expenses*

These pie charts have been created from the Farm Expenses Price Index data for 2013/14 season (Interest costs excluded from these plots) and each category is represented as a relative proportion of total weighted expenditure. As you can see fertiliser, feed and animal health (in green) make up 24-49% of all farm operating expenditure. These three categories directly impact on animal performance and all are inextricably linked.

The good news is that by ‘informing’ your decisions, pasture testing can help you save money this spring… And you can have your answer in 10 days! Consider the scenarios below:

1. Do you continue supplementing with magnesium?

Changes in the mineral composition of spring flush pastures raises the question of whether current levels of macro mineral supplementation are appropriate. Do you need to continue supplementing? What’s the risk to animal health if you don’t?

Spring pastures are generally higher in phosphorous, potassium and sulphur (these are more soluble and easier for plants to uptake), and lower in magnesium and calcium. To prevent subclinical and clinical metabolic disease it’s critical to get supplementation right going into peak production and mating. The only way you’ll know this is to confirm the mineral levels in the pasture.

If you enter mating with inadequate magnesium nutrition your mating could be affected even though the cows seem to be milking okay. For one client in Taranaki empty rate was reduced from 16% to 9% purely by providing sufficient magnesium supplementation. Considering the cost of an empty cow is estimated by Dairy NZ at $1000, this makes for a significant saving of $21,000 for this 300 cow herd.

2. Is your supplementary feed filling the gap?

The pie charts above show that feed makes up a significant portion of expenditure, particularly for Dairy farmers, where it represents the largest category at 25%. However, there’s opportunity to reduce this spend by asking some pointed questions. What is the gap you’re trying to fill, and will the supplementary feed you’re using fill this gap? For example, do you need more energy, fibre or protein?

The table below is derived from analysis of pasture and feed samples from a dairy farm. It highlights the risks and benefits of each feed component - important to understand when planning a diet that will support optimum production. Knowing your pasture profile allows you to be strategic and economic about your supplementary feed choices.

3. Can you reduce your fertiliser expenditure?

One new dairy client stands to almost halve their fertiliser expenditure from $50 000 to $30 000 based on our recent recommendations, while still delivering the nutrients required to support optimal animal health.

Choosing fertilisers that encourage plant uptake ensures that the nutrients reach the plant and don’t stay bound to the soil. The only way you’ll know this is to take a paired soil and pasture test. Whether your goal is to encourage pasture growth or to ensure optimal animal health, understanding the pasture mineral profile allows you to adjust your fertiliser choices. Being tactical about your nutrient use may also help you save you money on unnecessary fertiliser.

To read more about the importance of pasture testing when considering your fertiliser programme click here.

“I came to Mineral Systems with poor lamb growth rates, pasture persistence and a “shotgun” approach to fertiliser use. Since engaging Mineral Systems I feel we have make progress with improvements in animal health and more targeted fertiliser spending”. North Canterbury Drystock Farmer

Are you prepared for the changes in spring flush pastures? Would you like to reduce a piece of your expenditure pie?

Call us now on 0800 765 854 to arrange a pasture test and Mineral Systems will have an answer for you in 10 days.

* Derived from Farm index input weights 2014 spreadsheet, Statistics NZ.

#Dairyexpenditure #Fertilisercosts #Magnesium #Supplementaryfeed #Springpasture #Sheepandbeefexpenditure

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