Systems Approach to Pastoral Farming?Wednesday, Feb 21, 2001
An interesting news item describing the plans of the Ranfurly located Big Sky dairy-farming syndicate
to increase cow numbers by sourcing bought in feed for a herd of up to 6000 cows shows commendable
entrepreneurship so needed in NZ.
However on each upturn of the dairy industry such cut and carry projects have come to the fore. Dotted
round the NZ countryside are the tall unused silos that are a mute testament to the ambitions of
some progressive farmer to devise a way of obtaining absolute control over the farms principle variable
- sufficient quantities of quality feed - to be available to match the demands of livestock.
There is can be no doubt about the skills of the Ranfurly farmers, however the strong analytical bent
of newly investing farmers with a business background have in the past lead many projects up extremely
expensive blind alleys.
The pressure for productive efficiency is ever present and is often measured by per cow or per hectare
or per labour unit of production. However farming efficiency is a very complex model when analysing
overall farm profit, but finally the profit from the total resources utilised is the measure
of the farm's operational efficiency.
The success of New Zealand style pastoral farming has in the past been based round growing more grass,
of better quality, to be harvested directly by the animal. It has been a world-beater based on
leading edge pastoral and animal science and high quality farm management.
This and the drive to grow two blades of grass where one grew before has been the basis of the growth
of pastoral farming in NZ. Cereals and feed concentrates have not been able to approach the low
cost and relative ease of management fast growing good quality pasture converted directly into animal
But farming success always comes back to the complex management input required to balance pastures and
livestock performance in a variable environment. Perhaps more an individual art form rather than
a science, much to the dismay of the production control driven 'new age' farm owners.
The advent of computers and complex feed programs do assist in the decision support process for the
cut and carry, concentrate-supplementing proponents such as the Ranfurly farmers appear to be planning
The Ranfurly farmers seem to be taking the feed mixing route, which will certainly give production control
but probably at the expense of a realistic profit.
A systems approach is clearly in the mind of the Ranfurly farmers but they have gone back to the expensive
Northern Hemisphere production model, which has only survived in a subsidized environment
A grazing based alternative is provided by pastoral management systems developers who have created a
web based program that identifies, quantifies and values the key components of pasture based animal
production over the season. By then indicating the numbers and classes of stock the best return
can identified from a scenario pertinent to that particular farm. This system removes much of the
management indecision that results in either under or overstocking of pastoral farms at critical
growth periods of the year. (www.grazingsystems.co.nz)
Pasture based production systems should not be casually abandoned simply because it appears to be too
complex and unpredictable to manage in the current farming environment and capital can be readily
sourced for on farm development to move into higher cost systems much to the delight of profit hungry