Pads and pasture growth gains

Farmers have asked us about the potential pasture growth rate improvements from standing off cows using a feed pad  versus  no feed pad. DairyNZ farm systems specialist Chris Glassey responds.

How does pugging affect pasture?

Pasture growth rate can drop by up to 60 percent in paddock areas affected by pugging in wet soil conditions. Understandably, farmers get concerned when pugging happens – visually, it looks awful.

But usually, good management can confine pugging to a relatively small area of the farm, so its impact on annual pasture growth is minimal.

Is it worth moving stock off-paddock?

Research shows that on a whole-farm basis, stand-off practices can increase annual pasture growth by two percent on average. Some years there is no gain. In extremely wet years, and on extremely wet soils, the reduction may be as high as 10 percent of annual pasture yield.

However, stand-off practices can also decrease pasture growth by 10 percent due to the delayed return of nutrients from dung and urine to the paddocks from the stand-off area.

Research trials also show that locking large amounts of capital into off-paddock feeding and loafing facilities can’t be justified from the aspect of annual pasture growth and milksolids production.

What’s the difference?

  • A three percent increase in milksolids per hectare per year (MS/ha/year) was obtained on average over eight years, by using a loafing barn and feeding platform over winter for on-off grazing, compared with paddock wintering on a heavy soil type (Massey University, 1960s).
  • Many years later (2012 to 2015), Massey University measured annual pasture growth over three years on the same soil type (Tokomaru silt loam), comparing a herd with access to a wintering barn with a herd wintered on paddocks. There was very little difference in annual pasture yield. The expected benefits to pasture growth from having cows off pasture were not delivered.
  • DairyNZ’s Scott Farm near Hamilton, a farmlet comparison (Resource Efficient Dairying trial, 2001 to 2006) compared two herds, both wintered on pasture and pasture One herd was removed from pasture every night to a stand- off area; the other herd remained on pasture 24/7. The annual MS yield/ha was similar for both herds, suggesting no difference in pasture growth.

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This article was originally published in Inside Dairy – May edition.

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