WITHIN the next four years, dairyfarmers could be receiving an extra $300 for each cow, each year, by making improvements in grazing.
That is just one of the pledges from the Dairy Feedbase project, a joint collaboration between Dairy Australia, the Gardiner Project and Agriculture Vic.
Dairy Feedbase and DairyBio co-director Kevin Argyle told the DairySA Innovation Day crowd the project was aiming for a "quantum shift" in the productivity of pastures.
"(This project) is disruptive, transformational and it's exactly what we need in the dairy industry," he said.
Dairy Feedbase is about 18 months into a five-year project, aimed at improving the way pastures are grown and how this translates into cow productivity and health.
"We all know the correlation between managing the feedbase and the profitability of a farm business," he said.
Mr Argyle said Dairy Feedbase would address key challenges across five projects, looking at how to measure and predict future pasture availability, selecting the right varieties to maximise efficiency, measuring cow intake, managing heat stress through diet and then tackling the first 100 days of lactation to lift the peak.
"We're looking at what happens in the paddock - how to grow grass more effectively, how to allocate feed at herd level and then how to feed cows at individual level more effectively," he said.
"We're all unique and so are the cows, so what is more effective for them?"
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Mr Argyle said the first step was improving the measurement and forecast of pasture availability, with tools available within 12 months.
"Pasture is the cheapest source of feed, so how can we leverage investment in land and infrastructure," he said.
He said the project would result in tools to replace slow, manual measurement techniques in assessing pasture cover. He estimated about 10 per cent to 15pc of dairyfarmers actually used tools to measure pasture.
"About 40pc overgraze, 40pc undergraze and 20pc get it right," he said.
Dairy Feedbase is using satellites, drones and sensors to enable easier measurement and planning.
"The challenge is to scale up to farm level," he said.
"All this technology and research is fantastic but we need to be able to get it out on-farm so farmers can see how best to adapt it."
(This project) is disruptive, transformational and it's exactly what we need in the dairy industry.
Mr Agyle said the project was working with six commercial dairy farms across three regions - five in Vic and one in SA - to assess how these tools worked in real environments.
He said the automated measurement of kilograms of dry matter a hectare would be available on-farm by June next year, with nutritional aspects added after.
Mr Argyle said the research would also help farmers select the right kind of pasture.
A Fodder Value Index has been released, which ranks ryegrass cultivars on aspects such as dry matter yield and awards them a dollar value.
"Perennial ryegrass accounts for 80pc of the more than $100 million a year that Australian dairyfarmers spend on pasture renovations," he said.
He said the FVI would eventually have extra criteria to gauge the more than 60 cultivars on the market.
Metabolisable energy will be included next year, with persistence in 2021.
"This will shift some rankings about," he said.
"We will prioritise and add more traits as we go."
Mr Argyle said there was 270,000 ryegrass plants being grown at Hamilton, Vic, and these would be assessed to find "elite" parents, which could be bred into hybrids, that would result in a substantial productivity jump.
All this technology and research is fantastic but we need to be able to get it out on-farm so farmers can see how best to adapt it.
As well as growing better pasture, he said there was a need to ensure it was being effectively used by cows.
He said the Dairy Feedbase team was looking at topics such as bite sizes, number of bites and even feeding order.
"The last cows to get to feed (from the dairy) get less feed and also lower quality," he said.
"It's a double-whammy for those cows and we're able to see a five litre difference at milking by changing the order that cows get to the paddock."
Mr Argyle said there was a reason to get excited about the projects' targets.
"We can deliver a 20pc increase in pasture utilisation for 40pc of farmers," he said.
Mr Argyle said diet could also play a part in managing heat stress in cows.
"There is the obvious day-to-day management stuff - sprinklers, fans, milking time and genetics - but we can focus on diet composition, forage content, energy density, and additives and minerals, trying to replace what is lost in a heat event," he said.
"Hot days can result in a 40pc decrease in productivity and 10pc less for the rest of lactation.
"We think we can reduce the impact by at least 50pc by changing the diet."
He said an interim summer feeding guide would be produced as results became available, with a comprehensive package released by 2023.
The final project would draw from the previous four and work to boost production during the first 100 days of lactation, which Mr Argyle said had the potential to boost the average cow's production from 6000L to 10,000L in a lactation.
"The data clearly demonstrates that is achievable," he said.
Mr Argyle said this could result in an extra $300 for each cow each year.
"It's another $2 a day for first 100 days, which is $200, plus carryover effect of $100 for rest of lactation," he said.
Rodrigo Ivan Albornoz, who works at the Dairy Feedbase hub at Ellinbank, Vic, said recent advances had shown cows needed to be managed differently in the first three to four week period of lactation, when cows are fresh, to when they reached their peak production.
"They have different impulses driving them," he said.
He said part of this could be aided by a good transition but the key message was that metabolic signals drove feed intake in fresh cows while physical hunger signals were during peak production.
He said this meant a fresh cow's intake was reduced, just at a time when they were expelling a lot of energy.
"If they have suppressed feed intake, coupled with milk output, it means an energy deficit so more reliance on body reserves," he said.
He warned increasing supply of highly fermentable starch feeds could result in early satiety of cows, even if they had not reached their energy requirements yet.
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