Animal Production Science Animal Production Science Society
Food, fibre and pharmaceuticals from animals
RESEARCH ARTICLE

Optimising the interrelationship between intake per cow and intake per hectare

Alvaro J. Romera A D and Graeme J. Doole B C
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A DairyNZ, Private Bag 3221, Hamilton 3240, New Zealand.

B Centre for Environmental Economics and Policy, School of Agricultural and Resource Economics, Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences, University of Western Australia, 35 Stirling Highway, Crawley, WA 6009, Australia.

C Department of Economics, Waikato Management School, University of Waikato, Private Bag 3105, Hamilton, New Zealand.

D Corresponding author. Email: alvaro.romera@dairynz.co.nz

Animal Production Science 55(3) 384-396 https://doi.org/10.1071/AN14424
Submitted: 20 March 2014  Accepted: 19 May 2014   Published: 5 February 2015

Abstract

Production and profit in grazed systems remain inherently constrained by the fundamental trade-off between maximising individual herbage intake and pasture utilisation. The primary objective of this paper is to investigate the trade-off between herbage intake per cow and intake per hectare, from the perspective of economic optimisation, for an intensive pasture-based dairy farm in New Zealand (NZ). A detailed optimisation model of a dairy farm is applied, to allow the complex animal–plant–supplement dynamics underlying this relationship to be explicitly considered. Model output confirmed the existence of the fundamental inverse relationship between individual cow intake and herbage utilisation, which arises from the underlying biophysical dynamics within a grazing system, in the context of pasture-based NZ dairy farms. Results indicated that profitable management relies on increasing total pasture eaten (grazing plus pasture silage harvested on farm) through the use of a relatively high stocking rate and moderate levels of pasture intake per cow. Indeed, for 450 kg liveweight cows, optimal pasture intake per cow is 5 t dry matter (DM) per cow for per hectare intakes of 12–16 t DM/ha and 4.5 t DM/cow for a per hectare intake of 17 t DM/ha. Thus, a goal to maximise both individual intake and herbage utilisation in grazing systems is misinformed; it is the latter that is principally important to farm profit. Indeed, seeking to maximise both simultaneously is not possible, and trying to maximise individual intake can impose an enormous cost. However, while high herbage utilisation increases profit, this can also be associated with greater nutrient leaching, reinforcing the importance of considering the environmental impacts of grazing management.

Additional keywords: animal intake, dairy farm, herbage utilisation, optimisation.


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