Winter feed budgeting in a challenging environment

Winter feed budgeting in a challenging environment

21 July 2019

South Otago dairy farmer Peter Dobbie has been growing fodder beet for the past six years, predominantly using it for winter feed but also during late and early lactation.

Fodder beet has enabled him to improve the way he farms, allowing more flexibility when it comes to his feed budgeting.

Peter and his brother run 1,800 cows through two dairy sheds on the 913 hectare (ha) property. South Otago’s diverse climate means feed budgeting can prove challenging, particularly when each season brings something completely different from the last. This past year was certainly one of the most challenging Peter has faced, with a wet late spring at the time crops and young grass needed to get in the ground, and a very dry, late summer and autumn. Although fodder beet has not been the silver bullet, it has certainly played a big part in alleviating some of those seasonal impacts. “Fodder beet has given us more flexibility with managing our feed compared to our previous system with summer and winter brassicas,” says Peter.

Prior to fodder beet, Peter was cropping up to 90ha each year, which consisted of summer turnips and swedes for wintering. Now, only 60ha is cropped each year, with 50ha of fodder beet, 10ha of kale and no summer turnips. More cows are also able to be wintered at home on a smaller area due to the much higher yields that can be achieved with fodder beet.

Peter budgets for an average 25 tonnes (t) dry matter (DM) per ha from his fodder beet crops each year, with some years producing more and others slightly less. “We can adapt to the variation in yields by feeding less or more in late lactation with the option of buying in baleage in the autumn. If we have a surplus of beet at the end of the winter - although we try not to - we can lift it in early spring and feed it out through a silage wagon with silage when required,” he says.

With an emphasis on good ground preparation, fertility and getting the crops in the ground in good time (mid-late October), Peter attributes much of the variation in annual yields to the climate. Fodder beet requires both high temperatures and high sunlight hours, as well as adequate moisture - particularly from January through to March where peak growth occurs. Not only is overall DM production affected by the season, but the way the bulbs grow above and below the ground is also impacted. In a year with poor yield, bulbs tend to grow smaller and more in the ground with a higher dry matter percentage. This can in turn affect the utilisation of the crop.

Peter has used multiple varieties of beet over the years, and for the past three has been using Jamon; a medium dry matter type with large orange bulbs and fantastic leaf yields. Jamon is known for its consistent performance in a wide range of environments and is a big part of the equation when it comes to mitigating some of the climatic variation throughout the season on Peter’s farm. “It usually always pops out of the ground so stock can easily graze it and utilisation is high, even in a poorer yielding year.”

For more information on Jamon fodder beet, talk to your local TSR or visit your local Farm Source store.

Article supplied by Agricom