Computer-based decision support systems could provide an effective mechanism to facilitate technology transfer to farmers, and also improve the quality of their management decisions. The developers of computer systems, therefore, need to be cognisant of the constraints faced by farmers and the management methods that they use. To assist with the development of an expert system for the drying off decision a mail survey of 250 seasonal supply dairy farmers in five regions of New Zealand was undertaken during the 1992 winter to obtain information on management practices and decision aids used on farms. A response rate of 70% was achieved. Most (69%) farmers dried off some cows before drying off the main herd on the basis of age and condition. Final drying off date was most often based on pasture availability, cow conditions and/or the availability of supplements (85%). Mean pasture cover targets at drying off ranged from 1606 kg DM/ha in Northland to 2129 kg DM/ha in South Taranaki. Most farmers expected pasture cover to increase between drying off and calving. Only 22% of the farmers formally prepared a feed budget. A condition score target at drying off was given by 56% of the respondents (of which only 40% used a 1-10 scale). Computers were owned by 19% of the surveyed farmers. Inexperience with computers (60%), the cost of hardware (40%), lack of time to learn how to use computers (34%), no interest in computers (27%) and the belief that computers could not help management (27%) were cited as reasons for not owning a computer. The survey results indicate that computer-based decision support systems should be targeted initially at consultants who could provide a "bureau" type service to individual farmers. The present low level of formal feed budgeting limits the utility of decision-support systems that require objective farm data for developing grazing management recommendations.
Proceedings of the New Zealand Society of Animal Production, Volume 53, , 77-82, 1993
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