The Sustainability Chronicles (Part 3): Getting Technical
In the last two installments of the Sustainability Chronicles we looked at how sustainability within a farming organisation can be developed by taking an Animal Centred Approach. It’s all well and good having an idea but the next question should be; how do we make it work? We have to embrace the technicality of the system and learn the science behind the Animal Centred Approach.
Take a professional rugby player for example. These men and women don’t just make it to the big leagues from pure talent, they have a whole team of nutritionists, trainers, doctors and physiotherapists behind them, studying the science of what can transform a regular human being into a dynamic, fast, strong and powerful piece of athleticism. I don’t know if you’ve stood next to one of the Crusaders or South African Sharks before, but I can attest to these men being accurately compared to mountains.
Now, we aren’t exactly trying to build god-like muscles onto our dairy cows, but we are looking to achieve the same goal, get the most of out what the body can produce. It’s not enough to just hand out grass willy-nilly however, we must figure out the finer details. This means looking at fertiliser, supplement balances and feed quantities with a determined scrutiny. It can get intimidating; there’s a tonne of information out there and it’s a huge task wading it through it all.
The beauty of the Animal Centred Approach is that it gives us a direction that allows us to slice through the waffle. With each decision being made with the animal as priority, a pathway can be paved that aligns the numbers and allows the technical to become slightly less scary. With a clear goal in mind we don’t have to work off assumptions, we can pick and choose the tools that will be the most beneficial to our situation.
An example of this is fertiliser recommendations. Time and time again we see animal health and production challenges that can be traced back to fertiliser practice. But if we remember to consider what is good for our animals as well as the plant when we choose our fertilisers, we can manage disease risk and improve animal health and production on our farms.
Your average fertiliser recommendation rarely considers the animal health effects of too much nutrient. Nor does it consider the minerals and levels that the animal may require irrespective of what the plant needs. For example, excessive phosphorus fertiliser use (particularly superphosphate) will lead to high plant levels which then presents a milk fever risk for calving cows grazing the stuff. To manage this risk, we often need to throw in a whole lot of calcium (limeflour) supplementation and while this might seem like a perfectly reasonable solution, it introduces “supplementation risk”. That is, the more calcium we need to supplement with, the higher the chances of it failing to do its job.
It is encouraging having a direction or pathway that leads us to a more sustainable outcome while making decisions much easier along the way! As Shakespeare wrote, “though this be madness, yet there is method in't.” (Hamlet). An Animal Centred Approach can help methodize the madness.