Planning for a sustainable season

With much media debate and heated discussion regarding the industry’s environmental footprint it could be easy to lose sight of many controllable on-farm factors that will be part of the solution to delivering sustainability.

By Noelle Fox, FarmWise consultant. 

Efficient, integrated and mutually-beneficial farming systems must be a partnership on farm between sustainable use of environmental resources, profitable business performance, improved animal longevity, and attractive working environments.

Although you could argue about which are the top physical key performance indicators (KPIs) that will deliver these farm systems, few could argue the importance of the following;

  • Pasture eaten in tonnes of dry matter per hectare (tonDM/ha)
  • Milk production to December 31/decline from peak
  • Six-week in-calf rate and not in calf rate
  • Percentage of first-calvers retained after their first lactation

To achieve a win-win outcome it is important that; use of imported supplement is reviewed and potentially reduced, ensuring maximum fertiliser efficiency and improved animal, lactation and lifetime performance through days in milk and retention in the herd, enabling replacement rate to be reviewed. 

The next two months on farm will determine the success of many of these factors in terms of pasture management, financial discipline, milk production and herd reproductive performance.

Grazing and milk

Ensuring profitable milk potential is maximised will be determined on farm now.

What does that mean on your farm? For an average sized farm in Canterbury growing 15 tonnes of DM/ha/year, there is 1.5 million kgs of DM per 100 ha to manage on your farm.  That is a huge volume of feed. Remember you can only manage what you measure, so regularly measure pasture to enable you to have your finger on the pulse of your business over the next few months. Knowledge of your farm's average pasture cover and growth rates to support high quality decision making and execution.

Your decisions regarding grazing today will drive feed quality and quantity for the balance of the season, so attention to detail is key. The outcomes of today’s grazing will be reflected in milk production going forward long after you close the gate of the paddocks you grazed today.


With mating on the horizon, ensure your animals are ready for success and know your current herd performance compared with the industry targets:

  • 75% of cows have cycled 10 days prior to mating start date
  • 85% of cows have cycled at mating start date
  • 90% submission in the first 3 weeks of mating

Identify potential health issues and treat affected animals early. Ensure accurate pre-mating heats are recorded and a strategy for dealing with non-cyclers is made so that next season’s calving pattern is as compact as possible.

Review your current herd BW position and ensure you are on track to breed the highest BW replacements possible and achieve your desired herd position in 5 years’ time.

Your team

So as the potential for calving fatigue creeps in, take a break to recharge and ensure your staff also have the opportunity to recharge. This will allow you to refocus on the most important factors determining the success of your season; people, cows and feed.

By doing the day job well with an eye on the horizon in these key areas you will give your team, your cows, your farm and your industry the best opportunity for the times ahead.