Main content area

Individualised feeding of concentrate supplement in pasture-based dairy systems: practices and perceptions of New Zealand dairy farmers and their advisors

Dela Rue, B. T., Eastwood, C. R.
Animal production science 2017 v.57 no.7 pp. 1543-1549
consultants, cost effectiveness, cows, dairy farming, farmers, farming systems, feeds, grazing, herds, interviews, lactation, milk production, models, pastures, professionals, surveys, uncertainty, New Zealand
Approximately one-third of New Zealand dairy farms have in-shed feeding systems, and quarter of these systems have individual-cow feeding capability. There is little information about the factors motivating farmers to install individualised feeding technology in New Zealand and their management practices. A survey was conducted of 42 farmers using individualised feeding, followed by interviews of 32 farmers and five farm consultants. The aim of the study was to understand why farmers were installing individualised feeding, how they were using it, and what challenges they were facing. Results indicated that these farmers were commonly motivated by improving productivity and most farmers strongly believed that they were gaining value with this approach compared with flat-rate feeding. However, there was also uncertainty about the most profitable feeding strategies. The farmers were most commonly feeding cows in distinct groups rather than as individuals, and were typically adjusting feed allocation at three to four stages of the lactation. Consultants identified a lack of a value proposition for investment, limited justification for feeding-decision rules, and the absence of information to support the perceived productivity (and other) benefits. The perceived productivity benefit of individualised feeding held by farmers in the present study is contrary to recent research that has indicated no marginal milk-production benefit compared with flat-rate feeding. Although, few of these studies relate to individualised feeding in grazing systems where pasture allowance is restricted as is typical of New Zealand farm systems, indicating a need for further experimental and modelling research to quantify the potential value in these systems. Farmers were seeking reliable information on the response rate and cost effectiveness of various feeds and feeding rules, how to distribute a fixed amount of feed to the herd most profitably, and technical expertise, support and back-up for specific feeding systems. Findings from the present study suggest a lack of advisor expertise related to in-shed feeding of concentrate supplement in pasture-grazed systems, signalling opportunities for more training of rural professionals to provide informed advice and improved communication channels with farmers.