Grass into Gold - Seasonal update: Blair Murdoch, Southland

Hedgehope 30 March: Daily pasture growth rates are finally getting close to where they should be after a challenging spring and summer on the Murdochs’ totally self contained System 5 property in Southland.


As of mid March average farm cover was plated at 2189 kg DM/ha with daily growth of 56 kg DM/ha. Approximately 500 cows are in milk, down from a peak of 530, and they are producing 1.7 kg MS/head/day on a daily allowance of 18 kg DM/cow pasture, 3 kg DM dried distillers grain (DDG) and 300 g molasses.


Daily MS production is pretty much on a par with this time last year, Blair says, but their stocking rate is back - conditions for growth were so poor during spring and early summer they decided to cull the herd before Christmas, to take advantage of the beef schedule.


Between lower numbers, a shocking spring and a cold, slow summer, overall MS production is 8% back. However, the herd is in excellent condition (independently assessed as having an average BCS of 4.9) and Blair says the only potential change in his feed inputs as a result of the lower payout would be to switch from a premium supplement (DDG) to something cheaper like PK, or a blend of the two.


Maintaining pasture quality remains a priority, especially now that growth rates are near normal for the time of year. Supplements made on the farm this season include 438 t DM grass pit silage; 450 bales of baleage and about 90 t DM whole crop silage. More pit silage will be made if needed.


Three paddocks have been sown in new pasture, using a mix of Bealey and Trojan ryegrasses which was roller drilled into cultivated seed beds. The first was done in December, with two more in late February. Weeds have been a problem in the first paddock, and Blair has used more fertiliser than he normally would to try and reduce reversion to old grass species, which can happen quickly. 


Once the empties and another 20-odd cows are culled in early June, he’s planning to buy in 100 in-calf cows to lift the stocking rate for next season, aiming to calve a total of 620.


“We knew we wanted to get rid of some of our poorer producing cows and buy in better ones this season; we’ve gone ahead and grabbed the bull by the horns while the price is a bit softer.”


With all calves and heifers on board as well as existing and new cows, this winter will see the farm at its heaviest stocking rate but having a barn gives great flexibility and reduces the risk of pasture damage.


“We’ll feed any supplement through the barn, and once the cows calve and start milking they will come up to the barn for feeding, so there are no tractors on the paddocks. That also gives us the best feed utilisation.”