Andrew Barlass: Profitable dairy farming with high sugar grasses

High sugar grasses are a key component of dryland dairy farms. Methven dairy farmer Andrew Barlass is turning his attention back to pasture – focusing on soil health, alternative forages and homegrown feed to improve farm profitability.

Farm facts: Andrew Barlass

  • Run by Andrew Barlass in partnership with parents
  • 800 ha (1,977 acres)
  • Majority of the farm planted in Germinal New Zealand’s high sugar grasses and clovers
  • 1,500 cows spring calving in August and September
  • 4,730 litres per cow per year at 5.34% fat and 4.11% protein
  • 445 kg milk solids per cow per year
  • Dryland farm, all stock reared and out-wintered on farm
  • No supplements imported

Award-winning perennial ryegrass

Germinal New Zealand’s award-winning Aber High Sugar Grasses have been part of the farm’s permanent pasture mix for more than 10 years because they withstand the region’s cool and unpredictable climate.

“At the end of the day, we are in the business of growing grass first and producing milk second,” says Andrew, who runs two dairy operations spread over 800 hectares and milking 1,500 cows.

“The quality and quantity of milk is only as good as the forage we’re providing our stock.”

Andrew’s property is in the Canterbury foothills. His grandfather bought the farm in the 1940s and it has stayed in the family-run by his father David since 1975 and subsequently Andrew. The original farm area has increased over time, with the purchase and lease of additional land.

The dryland property is self-contained, which is unusual for Canterbury dairying. All stock is raised and wintered on-farm during winter and no supplement is imported.

Seeking self-sufficiency

“We take a more traditional approach and look to be self-sufficient,” says Andrew. “Winter feed is rotated through the farm and used as a tool to enable re-grassing as pastures run out. We also use catch crops and are increasing the diversity of species in our new pastures.

“Being unirrigated, the operation is subject to climate variability. To manage this, silage is made from surplus grass, usually in spring, occasionally in autumn, and used to fill feed deficits.

“The self-contained approach gives us a good level of oversight and control, as we don’t have to rely on supplementary feed sources and all young stock is close at hand. We have a full picture of the entire operation at all times, helping us understand our environmental footprint and proactively manage issues.”

Sustainable agriculture

Agricultural sustainability is an ongoing challenge for farmers, as they seek to comply with government-imposed nitrogen caps and other water quality controls. Pasture-based mitigation techniques and soil protection are important in the current environment, says Andrew.

“We are increasingly aware of soil health and microbiology. We’re taking a more holistic approach to fertiliser management – using more potassium and trace elements, and lifting the pH of soils to make more nutrients available to the plant.”

Innovative, cost-effective forages are an important part of Andrew’s strategy to lift animal performance while addressing environmental issues.

Germinal grass seed

Germinal’s high sugar grasses – AberGain, AberGreen and AberMagic – are a key component of the farm’s self-contained feeding programme.

Exclusive to Germinal, they are bred to produce a higher level of water-soluble carbohydrates and are up to 5.5% higher in digestibility than standard perennial ryegrass. This means more protein is converted to milk and meat and less is excreted into the environment.

“We want to maximise the amount of metabolisable energy produced per hectare, and the cows milk better off the high sugar grass,” says Andrew.

“Anecdotally, I would also say that the cattle prefer the high sugar grass over other varieties, and we consistently achieve an even residual post-grazing.”

Contact us for more information on our Aber High Sugar grass range.

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