A series of regional case-studies is tracking sheep and beef farmers as they navigate their way through winter and spring. Working alongside farm consultants, the case studies outline the decisions made by the farmers every six weeks and the implications of those decisions on the farm system and the bottom line.
Northland Case Study Update
James and Janine Parsons farm Ashgrove, a 478ha Kaipara hill country sheep and beef farm near Dargaville.
The farm has been severely impacted by drought and working alongside AgFirst consultant Bob Thomson, James and Janine implemented a number of strategies in autumn to minimise both the immediate and residual effects of the drought on productivity and profitability.
These included purchasing and feeding 29t of palm kernel to cattle, grazing ewe hoggets off-farm, applying 29t of autumn nitrogen, delaying tupping by one week, selling surplus ewe hoggets (typically carried through until November) undersowing chicory paddocks with annual ryegrass and installing a pump and 25,000L water tank. Coopworth ewe hoggets were not put to the ram this year although Suftex ewe hoggets were.
Read the original case study (PDF, 367KB)
- April and May rainfall drove pasture growth rates, but less than expected given the autumn nitrogen (N) application. April pasture growth rates were 16.6kgDM/day and May growth rates were 11.4 kgDM/day, the latter were back on last May’s growth rates and that was without N. It is likely the combination of steep terrain and very low soil moisture levels meant the response from N was disappointing. Steep land requires two to three times more rain relative to flat-land to raise soil moisture levels.
- The Parsons took the opportunity to buy an adjacent 120ha along with a well-known Northland Angus stud comprising 155 MA cows, 45 in-calf R2 heifers, 27 R1 heifers and six breeding bulls.
- Liveweight gain targets on trading cattle have been reduced because of the stud-stock purchases.
- Most trading cattle are now on long, slow rotations using stick and string cell grazing. The exception is a mob of the heaviest steers and bulls which continue to be supplemented with 5kgDM/head/day of PKE. While this is an investment in feed, these cattle will be finished by the end of July, reducing overall feed demand for the rest of winter and spring.
- Liveweight gain targets have been reduced more in the R1 cattle as they have more opportunity to catchup than the R2s. The latter will be finished by Christmas and reducing liveweight gains would compromise final carcass weights.
- Ewes have been maintained over winter. Typically, they would be used for grooming pastures in early winter and would lose a small amount of body condition as a result. This did not happen this year in an effort to preserve body condition and protect reproductive performance.
- All ewes, including stud ewes were mobbed up into a leader and follower mob in early May and put on a 100-day rotation for winter. The leader mob consisted of two-tooths and light MA ewes identified through regular Body Condition Scoring. After scanning, triplet ewes will be put into the leader mob.
- A planned purchase of 100 weaner bulls in April did not happen, but an increase in the value of cattle retained and supplementary feed purchased will prove to be a wise decision, despite sub-optimal liveweight gains.
- The decision not to mate Coopworth hoggets will reduce overall feed demand and means they are more likely to meet their target two-tooth mating weight next year.
- Pasture covers will be regularly measured and modelled on Farmax and if target spring target covers look to be at risk, additional N will be applied either directly or with a DAP/Ammo mix.
- Storing and feeding out Palm Kernel Extract. Cattle had to be trained to eat this “novel” feed but caught on quickly with good utilization.
- Training ewes to eat Whole Maize Grain – they had to be locked in the yards. Care was taken to avoid rumen acidosis. This was done well before tupping as ewes typically lose weight while adjusting to the feed.
- Applied N early as planes and helicopters get booked up quickly after rain.
Read a more detailed update (PDF, 368KB)