Feed Planning Tool Development

Project number:                    74313

Lead contractors:                 Silver Fern Farms, Farmax

Partners:                                   M&S

Start & end date:                   May 2011 – September 2012

Actual end date:                    January 2013

 

The Problem:

The main way NZ improved their grass and forage utilisation rate (and reduce production costs) was to encourage producers to record and monitor grass growth.  There is a small number of producers across England have been working on recording grass growth using plate meters, which has had some success.  However, it has been identified that a tool to record and monitor grass growth and other feeds would be useful to push these progressive producers further.

Farmax is a tool that was developed in NZ for “planning and controlling how you can most effectively convert pasture into profit (www.farmax.co.nz).  It is based around predicting grass growth (with help from regional grass growth curves) and calculating dry matter requirements of stock (based on liveweight and growth rates).

 

Project Aims:

  • To test the Farmax tool under UK conditions
  • To record the impact of improved grassland management on animal performance and farm profitability by using the Farmax tool
  • To quantify the opportunities for improving grassland management by optimising feed supply with livestock demand and levels of supplements.
  • To provide top producers with evidence of how a strategic approach to feed planning can improve their farm business
  • To use Farmax on ten beef and sheep farms with technical support from consultants to provide evidence how a tactical approach through inputting data, suggesting changes and monitoring progress can provide value to farm businesses.

 

Approach:

Ten producers will be recruited across a range of systems who are happy to work with Farmax to test the tool.  The program will be set-up on the farm, and the producer will feed in information, with the support of a Farmax consultant.

 

Results:

The results were surprisingly similar, especially in relation to pasture production and lamb and calf growth rates.  The main factor that stands out is the different in bodyweight between NZ and English ewes and cows.  There is a percentage difference in weight of 14% between the average English ewe and their NZ counterpart; for cows the difference is 40%.  This is what is driving both ewe and cow efficiency to be lower for the English farms, even though performance (fertility and growth rates) is higher or the same.

The data highlighted that the use of sheds with the UK is supported by the average grass growth curve, i.e. low rates during the winter and an explosion in the spring.  The use of sheds allows the grass demand to increase rapidly to fit that grass explosion as the gates are opened and stock are turned out.

The trial was successful in demonstrating that the NZ system of feed planning could be used in England with minor tweaks.  The English results suggest further efficiency gains can be made by monitoring feed supply and demand.

 

Planned activity:

EBLEX are funding phase II of this project to address some of the issues.  Phase II includes the addition of some new producers on to Farmax, plus the training of consultants to run Farmax files and to talk about feed planning to wider groups of producers.  EBLEX are also funding a project with Nottingham University and Lesley Stubbings to validate KPIs for English sheep systems, e.g. is scanning index appropriate for English systems and what are our targets for ewe efficiency.  Liz Genever continues to use the results from this trial is her presentations to a wider group of producers, plus has led to the BRP campaign on feed planning and record keeping during 2013.

Liz Genever is visiting NZ in February 2013 to research how to communicate feed planning to producers, which will be develop into workshops held in 2013 and 2014.