Physical and financial evaluation of a group of high producing dairy farms in New Zealand : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Applied Science (MApplSc) in Pastoral Science, Institute of Natural Resources, Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand

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Traditionally, New Zealand dairy production has been based on high pasture utilisation at high stocking rates, which resulted in low animal performance. Recently, a group of farmers (AGMARDT - Dairy Farm Monitoring Programme) gradually changed their production policy to a high production per hectare system achieved through high animal performance. The system is based on pre and post grazing herbage mass targets, strategic use of supplements to overcome pasture deficit and moderate stocking rates (2.7 cows/ha). This project evaluated the physical and financial characteristics of nine case study farms in the Southern North Island of New Zealand, involved in these changes. A one-year system study was conducted (2000/2001) in which physical and financial data were obtained to identify factors affecting farm production, efficiency and profitability. The results showed that the systems were effective and profitable, under the conditions in the 2000/2001 year. Average annual milksolids production per cow (411 kg MS/cow/year) and per hectare (1,100 kg MS/ha/year) for the case study farms were 33% higher than the national average. Average annual total intake for all farms was 5,257 kg DM/cow, 14,035 kg DM/ha, 59,656 MJ ME/cow and 159,232 MJ ME/ha. Mean economic farm surplus per ha for all case study farms (NZ$ 3,077/ha) was higher than regional averages (by 62% to 84%) and comparable to the industry's top 10% farms. Milksolids production per cow (R 2 = 0.71) and per hectare (R 2 = 0.74) were closely correlated with pasture intake. Supplements (24% of total annual ME intake) were used to overcome pasture deficits, so their effects were related to long term influences on maintaining both pasture and animal potentials. Differences between pasture intakes from farmer's visual assessment and plate meter readings (adjusted data) in summer, suggested that farmers were underestimating intake and/or the adjusted data, relying on standardised national equations, were overestimated. The measured ME intakes were higher than the theoretical requirements for all farms, suggesting measured intake overestimation and/or feed waste. Feed conversion efficiencies (6.0 to 7.4 g MS/MJ ME intake) increased with decreases in intakes, not with increases in milk yields. On-farm techniques used to measure feed intake, particularly from pasture, should be improved; and farmers' skill in increasing feed efficiency should be optimised, mainly in the systems achieving higher animal performance. Since the milk payment of NZ$5.00/kg MS will probably not remain in the future, control of production costs should receive more emphasis, particularly supplement costs. Keywords: dairy system, pasture management, feed quality, pasture intake, supplement intake, animal performance, stocking rate, feed conversion efficiency, cost of milksolids production, profitability.
New Zealand, Dairy farming -- Economic aspects, Dairy farms -- Evaluation