Early rain gives good start for pastures

By Dairy News

A CHANCE thunderstorm in February delivered much-needed moisture for one Dixie dairy farm to establish its newly renovated pastures earlier in the season.

This western Victorian pasture would be set for grazing by the end of May, providing the cheapest and best source of feed for the Glennen family’s freshly-calved mostly Holstein herd.

Matt Glennen said the 60 mm at the end of February was a “luck of the game” thunderstorm which benefitted just a localised region east of Warrnambool.

He farms with his parents John and Helen, partner Lucy Collins, full-time employee Tom Stuart, with some casual milkers, between Terang and Cobden.

Following a hot, dry autumn and summer last year, the Glennens used this autumn to re-establish their long-term pasture base after most of it died, except for 30 ha of a rye-grass perennial called Base.

“We lost all our grass last year, pretty much all the perennials, so we had sown a lot of Italians last year because we needed the feed,” Matt said.

“That provided the balance between feed availability and timing and we couldn’t do everything in perennial last year, we would have been on struggle-street in winter.

“So, this year, we had a fair old plan. It was probably the first week of March when we started sowing … it was then a bit dicey late March and some of it was a bit sick-looking, but we got enough rain.”

The family normally “takes the punt” and starts sowing in early March, but this year the plan was slightly different.

“We normally start with Italians early and then perennials,” Matt said.

“This year we did the same thing, but went straight in with perennials in mid-March – March 20. Now (early May) they are probably three-to-four weeks off grazing.”

Perennial rye-grass is the Glennens’ pasture of choice, but they planned to drill some wheat into the sacrifice paddocks at their Boorcan out-block. Matt said this out-block, near Camperdown, was “early country” and didn’t get as wet as the home farm.

Rating the season, in May, as a six or seven out of 10, Matt said Mother Nature had almost entirely co-operated with his sowing plans.

“Like everything would have been better to have the last couple of weeks (early May) rain earlier, but if we didn’t get that thunderstorm in February, we wouldn’t be like we are now,” he said.

Four years ago, he rated the season a “10 out of 10” with the herd entirely fully fed on pasture by May 10. This was the result of much earlier rains.

In the middle of May this year, Matt said much of the perennial renovation had been fertilised once and would be ready for grazing by the end of the month.

The Glennens milk 600 cows across 300 ha with the 180 ha Boorcan out-paddock.

Calving used to be split but it is now only once a year, in autumn. Heifers kick-off calving, starting on March 10, with the cows entering the dairy a fortnight later.

Looking forward, the Glennens want to push the cow-calving back two weeks.

Matt said the seasonal calving had improved so much that it had tightened to ensure 65 per cent of the cows and 80 per cent of two-year-old heifers calved within six weeks. While this is a great result, he said there were now too many cows coming into the dairy too early. This change to calving would also ensure calving better matched pasture-growth.

“Calving onto grass is best form of firing cows-up and best form of feed and cheapest feed,” Matt said.

“Tightening the calving pattern and doing it (calving) quicker, we still have our cow numbers in early to match our grass growth over autumn and winter but also production fits a flatter curve with the factory and we get the higher price. We are not calving early to achieve that (the higher price) but we are calving quicker, so we are still going to hit that curve.”

In mid-May the herd was being fed “just over” 6 kg of wheat/cow/day — crushed at the Glennens’ dairy farm — with some lupins left-over from last year and a mineral pellet supplied by stock feed manufacturer Ridleys.

On-top of this, the herd was receiving about 6 kg to 7 kg of grass/cow/day, about 3 kg of grass silage/cow/day and 4 kg maize silage/cow/day. Matt predicted pasture consumption would increase to about 10 kg grass/cow/day by the end of May.

As pasture consumption increased, grass silage would be cut out of the diet first before production was accessed to determine what would be cut next, maize silage or grain.

“They are milking okay,” Matt said. “With the purchase of new block at Boorcan we bought another 75 heifers. There’s probably 230 heifers out of the 540 that’s in at the moment and doing about 1.9 kg of milk solids/cow/day at the moment, the heifers are pulling that average back, but you expect that.”

The Glennens have retained much of their silage produced last spring and are thankful they haven’t had to buy-in feed.

“We had a good spring last year and didn’t have to start feeding silage until December and then the cows started going out in January-February,” Matt said.

“Lucky we are not buying any feed in. All silage made at Boorcan stayed over there and there’s still another 400 bales sitting over there. If you didn’t have any fodder at the moment, you’d be in a world of pain the way fodder prices are.”