Monday, July 29, 2013

Reduce Nitrate Leaching With The Mobile Milking System

Unconventional ways to reduce nitrate leaching

Part 1 
A few weeks ago I explained how agroforestry is a farming system that is able to reduce nitrate leaching.

Part 2
Today I will talk about how a dairy farming system based around a mobile cowshed is able to reduce the level of nitrate leaching.

A traditional cowshed is in a fixed location. The cows have to be within walking distance of the cowshed because they need to get milked twice a day.

The main cause of nitrate leaching on dairy farms in the cows urine patch.

For this reason, the cows are always grazed on the same block of land surrounding the cowshed.

What this means is the cows are rotating around the same block of land every 15-30 days, urinating  on the same paddocks month after month, year after year. 

By making the cowshed mobile, we also make the herd mobile and that allows the cows to move to other blocks of land throughout the year.

Essentially spreading the urine/nitrogen over a larger area and therefore reducing the concentration of urine on each single block of land.

It's a totally different farming system, but could be one method farmers use to reduce their nitrate leaching levels.

Monday, July 15, 2013

How A 750 Cow Dairy Farm, Could Make $125,000 More By Employing 2 Extra Staff

The Small Things Make A Difference

Ive been using a 750 cow farm (Canterbury average) as an example. I have been saying that this farm should have 5 employees + the boss, instead of the usual 3 employees + the boss.

2 extra staff @ $35,000 each = $70,000/year extra wages

But if this farmer could:
  • Increase fertility by 7% = extra $32,000
  • Decrease SCC in just 5% of cows = $30,000
  • Increase pasture quality by 10% for just 31 days = $63,000
Thats adds up to an extra $125,000

Subtract the $70,000 in additional wages = $55,000 better off.

By employing 2 extra staff, could this farmer:
  • Train staff better
  • Retain staff for longer
  • Reduce hours worked by each employee
  • Have less stressed staff
  • Have more engaged staff
  • Attract better quality employees
By attracting better people who are more engaged, better trained and generally less fatigued. Farmers are able to make lots of small improvements across the whole business.

The figures used here are examples of average performance being increased slightly. The productivity gain will be much greater foe farmers performing at below average.

6 Week In Calf Rate

"It's really easy to miss one cow on heat or miss a retained membrane after calving etc when staff are tired or rushed or not aware of all the things that contribute to a successful mating"


"Depending on what your cell count is and what the payout is, there's around $20,000 to $40,000 sitting there if you could just work on 5% of your herd"

Pasture Quality

"You don't have to spend any extra money to get that; you're using the pasture you've already got, but we're just assuming you can do it a little bit better for one month of the year"

These figures are just hypothetical and based on assumptions. Before I get jumped on by people claiming I should have used $6/kgms rather than $7/kgms or that fertility figures should be $100/ha rather than $115/ha etc.

I'm just using some data that is easily found to illustrate a point that small gains added up make a big difference. 

Likewise, small losses add up to make a difference too. 

When I read figures showing:

 I'm sure many farms are missing out on profit.

You know, this is the last time I'm going to talk about dairy farm staff, but I just want to make one last point and it's that the small things make a difference, they all add up. And, you know, I've been saying a 750 cow farm really needs an extra two staff, so that's an extra $70,000 a year. So, that's a lot of money, but I think if we just concentrated on three KPI's, or parts of a dairy farm, and if we assume that a farmer was at an average level of performance and they could make a slight increase on each one of those three areas, that they not only could cover their extra $70,000, but they would make an additional $50,000 as well.

                  So, the first thing I want to talk about fertility and the average six week in-calf rate in New Zealand is 65%. So, Lincoln University did some work and they increased the six week in-calf rate by 7%. And they said that was worth an extra $115 per hectare in operating profit. So, if we times that $115 per hectare by 277 hectares, which is what your 750 cow farm is. Then that's an extra $32,000 in profit. And that 7% increase is worked out to be 52 cows. You just need to get an extra 52 cows in calf over that six-week period, which is 42 days. So, that's 1.2 cows in calf and I'm saying if you had those two extra staff, would you be able to train your staff better and would you be able to do that?

                  So, the second thing is mastitis. Now, Livestock Improvement Corporation tell us that 5% f your herd attribute to 50% of your bulk somatic cell count. So, that works out to be 37 cows. And, they tell us if you drop your, or if you have an average cell count of 212,000 and you drop it to 150,000, that works out to be worth an extra $31 per cow. So, times that by 750 cows and that's $23,000. DairyNZ have some slightly different figures and they tell us if you could drop your cell count from 300,000 to 150,000, that's worth an extra 15 cents per kg of milk solids. So, on a 750 cow farm, that works out to be around an extra $45,000. So, depending on what your cell count is and what the payout is, now, there's around $20,000 to $40,000 sitting there if you could just work on 5% of your herd.

                  So pasture quality is the third thing. DairyNZ tell us that if you could get a 10% increase in pasture quality, that correlates to an extra 0.4 kgs of milk solids per cow per day in production. So, times it by 750 cows and that's an extra 300 kgs dry matter, sorry, 300 kgs in milk solids per day. And, let's just assume that you can get that 10% increase for just one month of the year, so 30 days. So, that works out to be an extra 9,000 kgs of milk solids. Times that by $7 payout and you're looking at an extra $63,000. And, you know, you don't have to spend any extra money to get that; you're using the pasture you've already got, but we're just assuming you can do it a little bit better for one month of the year.

                  So, let's add all this up. If you take a 10% increase in pasture quality for just one month of the year, that's worth $63,000. Concentrate on 5% of your herd and drop your cell count down to 150,000, that's worth $30,000 a year. If you can increase your fertility by 7% , that's $32,000 a year. Add that all up and that's $125,000 in additional profit or income. Minus your $70,000 for your two extra staff members, and you're still ahead by $55,000 a year.

So, I'm saying, with those extra two staff, would you be able to have a staff that are more engaged? Would you be able to train them better? Would they, would you be able to retain them? Would you be able to attract even better people to your farm? Because all you need to do, is make, you know, a little adjustment over those three areas, and you make your money back. What if you did over five or six parameters on your dairy farm? So, I think it's a false economy to understaff our farm

Friday, July 5, 2013

Agroforestry Systems Can Reduce Nitrate Leaching By 50%

Following on from Mike Barton's presentation to Beef + Lamb NZ, about farming under a nitrate cap. I thought I'd look at some less conventional ways farmers can reduce nitrate leaching.

Today I want to discuss Stephen Briggs Nuffield report into Agroforestry.

The report shows how an agroforestry system can dramatically reduce the amount of nitrate leached from a farming system.

It's a pretty radical change, but maybe the pasture based dairy farm of the future will include 100 trees/ha as well as cows.


Glen Herud here again and I'm blogging from my van today because I'm struggling to find time to blog. I still want to blog, but the only time I have to myself is when I'm stuck in Christchurch rush-hour traffic for 30 minutes every morning. 

So, I know I'm a bit weird.

I posted a video of Mike Barton last week about how he farms under a nitrogen cap. Heres the link to the full video on the Beef + Lamb NZ website. I recommend you watch it. 

But this is what he had to say:
"We leach 93% of the manageable nitrogen that's going into the lake. We wanted it to be all the batches and the septic tanks and the town and whatever else you could hope for. It wasn't. It was us."

You know, I think it's just a matter of time before all farmers will have to farm under a nitrogen cap. And whether that's right or wrong, I don't know. I just sense that the movement is towards that. 

When you look at the changes on the Horizons District Council, what's happened in Taupo. Canterbury is talking about it. Southland is talking about it. You know, I just get the sense in 10 to 15 years time, that's where we'll be.

And I don't think farmers are really thinking radical enough about how we could change our farming systems. I'm sure farmers understand how big the effect will be on their farming businesses. They understand that. But I think we need to really think about how we're going to farm under that, rather than spend all our energy on fighting it. Because I think it will happen, as Mike Barton said.

Now, one radical system, I'm going to cover a few radical ways that we could farm cows over the next couple of weeks. 


And I want to talk about agroforestry. The reason is that agroforestry has been shown to reduce nitrate leaching by up to 50% over a monoculture system. Now, Stephen Briggs is a Nuffield scholar from the U.K. and he released a report on agroforestry last year. And I'll put a link to it, it's really good.

But, what you do is you really combine trees with agriculture. So, they could be nut trees, fruit trees, timber trees and they could be cropping. Could be dairy, whatever. And what you do is you plant them in lines, you have about 100 trees per hectare. And you farm within the alleyways.

Now, the reason it reduces nitrate so much is that the tree roots will grow down deeper. And they go in underneath the alley crop and they join up in the middle. That creates a kind of a safety net. So, any nitrate that drops out the bottom of the agricultural system gets absorbed by those trees. Therefore, you have a much lower rate of nitrate leaching.

So, there's a lot of other advantages. For instance, shelter. Also, agroforestry systems have shown to have 30% reduction of evapotranspiration rates. So that means that you're losing less water out to the atmosphere. Which is probably pretty good for Canterbury farmers that particularly, when you think about our howling nor'westers in the summer. But it's not all plain sailing. Shading is an issue and Stephen talks about how to overcome shading and the research done on that.

I know Lincoln has done some research into agroforestry and they showed that, after 15 years, their pine trees have totally shaded out their alley crop. So, we don't want that to happen. There needs to be a bit more research done into it. But, you know, it's a radical way of doing things. I mean, imagine if your average dairy farm sort of looks like this and imagine just planting that full of trees. Planting thousands of trees in your most productive land. That's a pretty radical thing to do.

Now, these are the sort of things I think we need to start thinking about if we're going to have a dramatic effect on our rate of nitrate leaching. And of course, many people, many farmers, don't think we need to. 

But as Mike Barton says in his presentation, 'If farmers don't come up with the solutions, some bureaucrat in Wellington probably will.' And it's much better that farmers come up with solutions than someone else. 

So, I'm just going to throw out some real wacky, way-out sort of things that maybe we need to consider to reduce our environmental impact.