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AR1 equals more milk, healthier cows

Three years research confirms perennial ryegrass with AR1 endophyte gives more milk and happier, healthier cows on the Northland Agricultural Research Farm, Dargaville.

Cows grazing AR1 produced 4% more milksolids every year for the three years of the trial, with the biggest gain in autumn - 11% on average, ranging from 8% to 14%.

Over the three years AR1 cows have produced an extra 122kg MS/ha. At $3.60/kg MS that equates to extra income of $440/ha, from a $25/ha investment in seed.

This is the longest-running and largest farm trial on AR1 endophyte in New Zealand, now in its fourth season with Dairy Insight funding.

It uses a split herd and equal acreages of ryegrass with AR1 endophyte, and Standard endophyte (also known as high endophyte), plus a control pasture.

Milk production from cows grazing the different pastures has been collected daily since October 2000 by farm managers Malcolm & Kylie Welsh.

Cow health and behavior has been closely recorded. Data is compiled and analysed by Whangarei farm consultant Colin Page.

Those administering the trust which runs the farm - including Chairman Mark Croucher - say they're so impressed with the results they're now sowing ryegrass with AR1 endophyte on their own dairy farms.

It's not the first time Northland Agricultural Research Farm has led the way on local farm management - earlier trials included precedent setting work on split calving for winter milk, and use of maize silage.

Both are now commonplace in the North.

The farm itself, a community initiative since the 1920's and currently supported by RD1 and Ballance Agri-Nutrients, is thought to be the oldest demonstration farm in the country.

But the new AR1 research has major implications well beyond Northland, says Chairman Mark Croucher.

"Our work shows what effect ryegrass with AR1 endophyte has on cows in a commercial setting, and in a climate and environment where heat stress, ryegrass staggers and other health issues related to high levels of fungal toxins can have a major effect on production."

He believes the farm's findings will help many upper North Island farmers resolve such long-running animal health challenges.

Farm managers Malcolm & Kylie Welsh say they can now easily identify AR1 cows before getting close enough to see their ear tags or even to see how well they're milking.

"They're the ones that behave themselves. You put them on the AR1 paddocks and they graze the paddock evenly then they lie down contentedly.

"The cows on Standard endophyte are the ones that break out of their paddock, won't graze, stand round at the gate complaining, walk slowly and generally misbehave. If something is going to go wrong, you know they're right in the middle of it."

But milk in the vat tells the real story, they say.

"The production benefit varies throughout the year, sometimes by quite a lot. And it's hard to know what makes the difference. In the end, though, you can see clearly the AR1 cows produce more milk."

Farm Details

Northland Agricultural Research Farm Dargaville

Managers: Malcolm & Kylie Welsh

Total area: 64ha, 61ha eff; 52ha Kaipara clay, 9ha Te Kopuru sand

Runoff: 31.5ha, in development with 26 ha grass.

Herd: 196 cows milked 02/03, split calving.

Production: 02/03 1194kg MS/ha, 371kg MS/cow

Supplements: 72 t maize silage

Fertiliser: 100 units N, 50P, 120K, 50S

* AR1 endophyte is a novel safe endophyte developed by scientists at AgResearch. It eliminates the risk of ryegrass staggers (RGS), and reduces heat stress while still protecting the ryegrass plant from Argentine Stem Weevil (ASW) and other insects. It is now commercially available in a range of ryegrass varieties.

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