Fresh-cut pasture unique to NZ dairy goat industry

AgResearch and the Dairy Goat Co-operative are holding a silage workshop at Ruakura on 9th September for farmers to find out more about the best practices for silage and forage supply for goats.

​Dr Warren King, Farm Systems senior scientist at AgResearch’s Ruakura Research Centre says dairy goat farming is significantly different to dairy cow farming, particularly when it comes to feeding and total forage supply.

“Most dairy goats are housed indoors and farmers provide fresh pasture in a ‘cut and carry’ system. Fresh-cut pasture in a dairy goat system is what makes New Zealand unique in the world,” he says.

“Typically one-third to one-half of total forage supply for dairy goats is fresh-cut pasture.”

However, fresh-cut grass is not available all year round. Most dairy goat farmers are quite reliant on grass silage as a significant component of their total forage supply system, much more so than dairy cow farmers. In fact, some dairy goat farmers rely entirely on grass silage. Grass silage offers consistency throughout the season, and is used alongside supplements such as maize silage and brewer’s grain.

While some farmers make their own grass silage, others get contractors to make silage for them, and yet others buy silage in when they need it.

“Silage is a way of dealing with the massive flush of spring pasture growth in September and October, and to make sure there are good feed resources on hand year-round, especially in February and March when grass dries off. There is an extra cost to producing silage but it’s cheaper to make your own than buy it in later on,” says Dr King.

Silage quality can be quite variable, however.

“Over the past two to three years we have studied silage – including silage that dairy goat farmers have made themselves, silage they have had contractors make, and silage bought in – and there is a wide range in terms of moisture and energy content,” says Dr King.

Researchers visit farms frequently to take samples of grass silage for lab testing. Over the past 12 months, scientists have focused closely on four case study farms to help build a picture of the role of silage in the total forage supply system.

Benchmarks for good quality silage include 30 per cent dry matter, a metabolisable energy (ME) greater than 10, and a protein level greater than 16 per cent. Testing by AgResearch revealed silage on Waikato dairy goat farms ranges greatly in quality. Dry matter content ranged from 17 to 46 per cent.

“Getting it to the right moisture content is vital,” says Dr King.

“If silage is too wet then all of this nasty soup drains out the bottom of the silage stack. That means a lot of the goodness drains away.” Farmers can expect losses if dry matter is less than 25 percent.

Research also found that some silage had less than ideal metabolisable energy levels, with one below eight and a handful below 10 units of ME. Some protein levels also measured low, with numbers as low as 10 per cent. “More protein in silage is good. Like all lactating animals, goats require a high quality diet to perform at their best”.

Silage bale and stack handling is important too. There are some risks with feeding mouldy silage, which can result in goats contracting the disease listeriosis, which can be fatal. This plant-soil-based bacteria thrives in spoiled silage, generally occurring when stacks or bales are poorly covered or stored.

To attend AgResearch and the Dairy Goat Cooperative’s silage workshop on Tuesday September 9 at Hamilton’s Ruakura Research Centre, contact Dr Warren King to register your interest: warren.king@agresearch.co.nz or 07 838 5159.

Media contact:
Alex Fear, Senior Communications Advisor, AgResearch.
T: 07 834 6636 / 021 773 674
E: alex.fear@agresearch.co.nz

About the Dairy Goat Supply Systems Project

The New Zealand dairy goat industry is an innovative, emerging one, with growth potential in key overseas markets. Goat milk products bring in more than $100 million per year.

AgResearch has partnered with the Dairy Goat Co-operative (DGC) to research the attributes and benefits of goat milk and best practices around formula processing. A new on-farm project, Dairy Goat Supply Systems, aims to develop best practice guidelines for farmers.

DGC formed 30 years ago and is based in Hamilton, with manufacturing facilities at its Gallagher Drive site. The co-operative produces dairy goat infant formula (birth plus), follow-on formula (six months plus) and growing up milk formula (one year plus). Most dairy goat farms are based in the Waikato, although there are a few suppliers in Taranaki and Northland. This season 69 farms will supply approximately 30,000,000 litres of goat milk to the co-operative.

Goat milk infant formula is a niche, premium, value-added product with excellent export opportunities for New Zealand. It is currently exported to 20 countries including China and Australia, and recent legislative changes in Europe offer new, potentially lucrative export opportunities.

Dairy goat farming is a small industry compared to cows.
“With cows the best practice guides are on the shelf,” says Dr Warren King, who works in the Innovative Farm Systems group at AgResearch’s Ruakura campus.

“With dairy goats there are no manuals to follow and people with experience in the industry are thin on the ground.”

In the past decade Government has invested more than $10 million into dairy goat research, reflecting interest in the industry.

The Ministry for Business, Innovations and Employment is currently funding two AgResearch programmes: $860,000 per annum over a five-year period to study the health and nutritional properties of goat milk formula and a further $1.4 million per year over a six-year period for on-farm goat research. The Ministry for Primary Industries’ Sustainable Farming Fund has also invested $200,000 over three years for researching best practices around forage supply.

Over the next 18 months AgResearch’s Dairy Goat Project team will share its research and best practice in a series of articles on topics such different forage types and how to get the best quality and quantity forage, environmental sustainability and animal welfare.