New Advanced Science gets the Nod

A lot can be learned or assumed by a slow drive down a farmer's tanker track, particularly if cattle are close enough to observe. To a trained eye, the state of their health is very noticeable and often the reasons for them not looking in top condition can also be obvious.

Arriving at the cowshed can also be an eye opener! Empty pallets of containers of used products lying around the implement shed can tell its own story.

One particular shed I visited recently had no room for implements as every imaginable additive was stored there! After greeting the farmer we made our way to the primary reason for which I had been called, the effluent pond.

Then the real discussion began as we related the state of the pond to their management systems.

I will walk you through the issues in this column just as I worked through them with the farmer....

Modern Farming is plaqued by back to front thinking where it seems the main additive missing is common sense.

This farmer then asked me to visit his friend who was experiencing major animal health issues on his farm and despite seeking expert advice he had been unable to find any real solution. He started the season on 1st June with 500 cows to calve and now has a little over 460 to complete the season with. 22 cows died from metabolic problems, 63 had clinical milk fever, and some aborted. Although these cows will be milked, they will only make good milking cows look bad when counted as an average. This problem has been ongoing for 4 years. The solution given to fix the problem? More additives!

In my opinion ….Back to front thinking!!

Last summer farmers, particularly in the North Island, were plagued by uncontrollable facial excema despite near toxic levels of zinc being administered. The season before Waikato vets were puzzled by large numbers of young cows breaking their shoulders. They would just be walking along and they would collapse. When you talk around, this problem is quite common.

Lets apply some common sense and look at the big picture.

If additives can fix a lot of these ailments then there must be something missing somewhere. Some simple questions arise:
  • Could this possibly be associated with what the cows eat?
  • Is there something missing in the cows feed?
  • What is causing deficiencies in the feed?
  • If grass is grown in soil is this where the problem is?
For the last 40 years the fertiliser industry has adopted the NPK approach. Some forward thinking people call this incomplete soil nutrition.

Science states 16 elements are needed to grow balanced grass.

After 40 years of largely NPK dominance (nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium), then just maybe, without using my calculator, there are approximately 12 nutrients running a tad low in the soils. The general thinking could be that it is too expensive to fully balance the soil and as a result, other nutrients needed are fed directly to the cow as an additive. So we now see the additive industry booming.

Interesting point – prior to my visit, the farmer that had 22 cows die had been given a fertiliser recommendation of 500kg/ha Superphosphate and 800kg/ha of urea.

No attention was given to the elements which will help his metabolic problems.

A good full soil test will show up the elements lacking and highlight the cause of this farmers frustration.

There is a trial in Methven comparing two farms; one using the NPK (incomplete soil nutrition plus additives and the other Farm using the Albecht/Kinsey system of soil fertilty.

The Albrecht/Kinsey approach of balancing and providing full soil nutrition may assume a higher cost, but they are showing superior results and higher profits overall.

Particularly interesting is that the NPK farm developed serious grass staggers killing 5 cows and 12 down-cows required treatment over a two week period as bad weather struck during the third rotation (Oct, Nov). Although mag chloride was being administered, the cows drank less water over this period and hence a magnesium defficiency appeared. The treatment was to begin dusting with magnesium on the NPK farm. The Albrecht/Kinsey farm had abundent and balanced magnesium and calcium reserves in the soil to carry them through without issue.

From my observations the modern scientific approach of full soil nutrition and a comprehensive soil analysis will highlight the cause of animal health problems and reduce your animal wastage. Evidence has shown that soils with low zinc create challenges in avoiding excema. This will be your next issue to face!

David Law
Forward Farming Consultancy


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