Grass into Gold - Seasonal update: Kathy Craw, Marton

Marton 2 April: New pastures are in the ground more than a month earlier than last year on Kathy Craw and Logan Bowler’s Rangitikei property.  


“We were so late last autumn, we were adamant we were going to get the grass in early this season. Just over 8 ha of Trojan has just gone in, following turnips – some of it is up and some of it not quite. Then we’ve direct drilled 2 ha of Shogun, grass to grass, and there is also a paddock of two year old chicory which has been sown in Trojan.”


Renewing paddocks so much earlier is a satisfying goal to tick off after what has been a yo-yo season for pasture growth on their System 2-System 3 farm.


Currently 180 cows are in milk, down from a peak of 229. Kathy started 16 hour milkings at the end of January in response to a lengthy dry spell, and is considering going OAD in the next fortnight, but that will depend on whether the latest growth spurt continues.


The diet has been mostly pasture topped up with grass pit silage at up to 5 kg DM/cow/milking, but they’ve been able to reduce the silage recently with better pasture growth, and now plan to drop it entirely for the rest of autumn in favour of PK.


This will use up their final contracted truck load of a total 92 t PK for the season, and since the remaining grass silage is not of top quality it is better saved for winter supplement, Kathy says.


Production held really well during January and February, notwithstanding the longer milking interval and only dropped off recently, from 1.6 kg MS/cow/day to the current 1.35 kg. Kathy says this coincided with the start of different grass silage.


“We bought from two sources this season, and obviously quality for the first lot was much better than the one we’re on now.”


Overall production remains well up on last year (+17%), with only 4 more cows. Kathy says 2013/14 was a shocker for them, but she’s happy with this result. “They will end up doing over 400 kg MS/cow which for us, on our system, with a scraped-together herd, is not too bad!”


Last year Kathy and Logan finished the season on 80,000 kg MS. This year she’s budgeted 85,000 kg, has done 87,000 kg to date and is expecting to do about 93,000 kg in total, with just four more cows in the herd.


Cost of production is down, too, which is also good. “We’ve grown and utilised more grass this year, and we haven’t fed any maize silage in autumn, because of the payout.” A relatively large area of new pasture sown last season (10 ha Tabu, 10 ha perennial ryegrass) has helped the farm grow more and better feed although conditions have been erratic throughout summer and early autumn.


“We fertilised after the rain in March, and growth shot up to 60 kg DM/ha/day, then the next week it was down to 16 kg so it’s been a real roller coaster.”


Logan’s due to do a farm walk this weekend and Kathy expects average cover to be about 2000 kg DM/ha. Target cover for dry off is 2200 kg DM/ha, and they’re hoping to milk through to mid May.


“Last year were dried off by 3 May with no grass, so this year is still looking quite good by comparison,” Kathy says. Cows are in better shape too, at an estimated average BCS of 4. Scanning results reflect their very mixed herd and are accepted as part and parcel of building cow numbers.


Two and three year olds scanned 4% empty and the general herd 10% but their relatively high proportion of carryover cows lifted the overall empty rate to 16%.