A Dutch dairy farmer whose cows just recently learned how to graze again after 10 years of being kept indoors is using a rather novel method to measure his grass yields to ensure he only uses fertiliser where required.
Piet Jan Thibaudier, 31, discovered the pasture reader technology in Australia and adapted it to fit onto a mower that sits on the front of the tractor. The technology is able to measure the height of the grass when cutting as well as the yield. With this information Mr Thibaudier can draw up a field map that highlights the areas of the feed that require fertiliser the most, therefore preventing overuse and saving money.
Mr Thibaudier now milks 185 crossbred cows on 100 hectares near Lemmer in partnership with father Luut and mother Coby. The herd averages 8,700kgs per cow per year at 4.5% butterfat and 3.65% protein but the goal is to increase this average to 10,000 kg with 5% butterfat and 4% protein. Years ago, when Piet’s father ran the farm, the cows were switched from a pasture based system to being kept indoors and fed daily on a zero grazing ration. However, as markets progressed, Friesland Campina were paying € 0.34 (NZD$ 0.58) per litre for the milk plus a bonus of € 1.50 (NZD$ 2.71) per litre for milk produced from grazing cows.
When an earlier opportunity arose for Mr Thibaudier to take over a neighbouring herd of 45 cows and a further 25 hectares of land, he jumped at the chance, albeit with the understanding that changes to his feeding system were essential. “A neighbour was quitting dairying and asked me if I wanted to take on his herd and land,” he said. “I wanted to expand at that time and was able to take it over. That brought my cow numbers up to over 180 and I was running a 20% replacement rate for followers. With the bonus Friesland Campina was offering for milk from cows grazed at grass I decided to let the cows out. However, my cows had not been out to the fields in 10 years and had never learned how to graze. It was truly remarkable to see the 45 cows from the neighbour’s herd educate my cows on how to eat grass in a field again,” he said.
“Our cows are milked twice per day and graze 6 hours per day. I want to increase that to 12 hours per day with 150 days grazing in the season,” he said. As a result of allowing the herd to graze outdoors, his fodder costs fell by € 2 (NZD$ 3.43) per litre but he knew the farm required a better grassland management plan. With this in mind, and with his passion for innovation, Mr Thibaudier surfed the web for technology that could help monitor his grass growth and discovered the pasture reader in Australia. He adopted the technology from Australia with Arjan Hulsman to suit his own farming system by mounting the sensors and readers onto his mower mounted on the front of his tractor.
“Before the grass is cut the sensors measure the height and yield of the sward as the mower passes over it. This information tells me the weakest parts of the pasture and which areas I need to fertilise the most. We also have information on pH and humidity,” he added.
The reader scans every 3bm to gain accurate results in the grass crop. Mr Thibaudier strives to achieve 2,000 and 2,500 kilograms of dry matter per hectare. Thanks to the success of the system Mr Thibaudier became a distributor for the technology in the Netherlands and already has some sales success for the pasture reader which retails for around € 5,000 (NZD$ 8,583).
“I already have 5 customers,” he mentions, “who are all using the system to monitor their own grass yields and quality.”
Finding the pasture reader on the web is the latest success for Piet who also found his rotary milking parlour online in Denmark.
“When I was building my new cow barn I decided to look for a 2nd hand parlour on the internet. As luck would have it I found a 26 unit rotary machine that was being taken out of a farm in Denmark. “It was only 2 years old but was being replaced by robots. In the end I got it for scrap price of € 13,000 (NZD$ 22,315). I had to replace all the rubber clusters and lines but everything else was relatively new. “We milk at 4am and 4pm each day and move the cows to a fresh plot of grass each day,” he concludes.