MID Dairy Farm Productivity Tracker Project

Aim of the project

Herd feed cost is a major driver of profit on farms. The project monitored herd production and pasture and supplementary feed consumption every 10 days over the 2009-10 milking season. The information collected was presented as graphs to allow easy interpretation to assist feeding decisions. The reporting had been used at the Macalister Demonstration Farm for more than 2 years. Another aspect of the project was the trialling of a new extension model, which was based on emails followed up with small group discussions. The twenty farmers involved received initial training on interpretation of data and were then emailed data about their own farm every 10 days. Facilitated discussions occurred 4 times a year for the farmers to talk about results and different management approaches. The project aimed to effect positive changes in management such that pasture consumption of herds increases and therefore so does profitability.

Funding: GippsDairy, Macalister Demonstration Farm

Contact: Frank Tyndall T:  0409 940 782

Summary of the project after completion

Dairy farmers are under increasing pressure to improve pasture consumption and make very careful use of purchased feed in order to maintain a profitable business.
 
Monitoring of the key factors that drive profit is a crucial part of any management process. If done regularly and consistently, monitoring provides the opportunity for timely corrective management and then to rapidly see the response.
 
The MID Dairy Farm Productivity Tracker project captured all the feeding data from each of the twenty participating MID dairy farmers every ten days. Farmer participants provided data on milker numbers, milk fed to calves, supplements fed (purchased and own, quantity, quality, price, waste estimate and fodder conserved), change in body condition and stage of pregnancy, and grazing area and grazing rest time. All of this information was presented back to farmers within three days in table form as well as being presented graphically for ease of interpretation of the main drivers of feeding profitability. The graphs show trends and, over subsequent years, yearly comparisons.
 
The data of all farms was consolidated and group graphs showed the group average, group top 5 %, group bottom 5%.  The Macalister Demonstration Farm graphs were also shown in the consolidated district graphs. All individual data was kept confidential with no individuals identified in the consolidated data that was released publicly.
 
Consolidated data and graphs were made available to the broader industry through the MDF Newsletter and regular media articles, providing a comprehensive picture of the physical feed and milk production of the district’s dairy farms.
 
The range in feeding profitability measured as Margin Over all Feed (MOAF)/ha/day in 2009-10 was $7,208 down to $387 with an average of $4,831/ha/day and in 2010-11 from $9,682 to $5,928 with an average of $7,941/ha/day.
 
All of the farms in the project (where data is complete) improved their feeding performance and profitability measured as MOAF/ha/day from 2009-10 to 2010-11. The largest jump in performance of any farm was $7,970 MOAF/ha/day while the least improvement was $712 MOAF/ha/day. The average improvement for all twenty farms was $3,110 MOAF/ha/day. The largest contributor to this improvement was the milk price but most had tuned their system in some way, mainly by increasing purchased feed or by increasing herd numbers, in response to an anticipated better return.
 
A project made a number of key findings:
 
  • High margins per cow and per hectare result from high milk production per cow coupled with good grass consumption per hectare.
  • Grass consumption  per hectare,  delivered  by good management  and a high level of grass growing  inputs,  associated  with  an  appropriate  stocking  rate,  delivers  a  high  amount  of cheaper grass per cow.
  • Improved feeding margins and the expressed perceptions of the farmer participants indicates that the Tracker  project  has resulted  in changes  in feeding  management  that have  had a positive impact on farm performance.
  • Farmers can benefit from complex data if they are trained to manage it, if it is current and they have respect for its integrity.
  • The Tracker project resulted in a much greater focus on pasture management  to maximize pasture consumed and raised the importance  of feed margins/hectare  as an important profit driver.
  • Benchmarking or comparison to other like farms can have a positive motivating effect on dairy farmers.
  • While  talking  to  other  farmers  was  important  to  the  success  of  the  project,  it  was  less significant as a motivator to act than was expected.
  • Projects  like the  Tracker  project  may play a positive  role  in raising  the  computer  skills  of farmers.