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All-grass advocate seeks further challenge

Noldy and Bev Rust with their daughters (from left to right) Jamie, Carmen and Hayley on their family farm at Te Pahu in the Western Waikato.

All-grass advocate seeks further challenge

2007/08 Season

Owners: Noldy and Bev Rust
Farm location: Te Pahu
Farm size: 52 hectares (eff.)
Herd size: 200 cows

The desire to keep motivated and challenged led all-grass advocate Noldy Rust to start feeding maize silage two seasons ago. Noldy and his wife Bev along with daughters Jamie, Hayley and Carmen, and foster son Hayze, farm 200 Friesian and Friesian cross cows on 52 hectares (eff.) at Te Pahu in the Western Waikato.

"We started on the farm 10 years ago and achieved an average of 1,000 kgMS/ha for the first five years. For the next four seasons we worked closely with Dexcel and lifted production to 1,100-1,200 kgMS/ha from 170 cows. At this point we reached a production plateau and couldn't go any further using an all-grass system," says Noldy. "We liked it here and didn't want to move to another farm. Our desire to stay motivated and challenged without compromising lifestyle led us to start feeding supplements."

"We chose maize silage because it is a consistent product that is readily available and more cost-effective than other forages," says Noldy. "There are a lot of proven, profitable farm systems that use maize silage which comes with the added guaranteed benefit of increasing cow weight gain."

The Rusts purchased 170 tDM of Pioneer® brand 34B23 in March 2006. They fed 50 tDM in the autumn to increase days in milk and cow condition. Total production for the season was 61,000 kgMS (1,173 kgMS/ha) and the farm generated an EFS of $2,650/ha for the 05/06 season.

A combination of reduced culling and milking carryovers through the winter allowed the Rusts to increase their herd to 200 cows at the start of the 06/07 season. The herd started calving on July 15 and finished nine weeks later. A total of 85 tDM of maize silage was fed from the beginning of August until the end of artificial insemination in late October, when pasture growth consistently exceeds demand. Feeding of the remaining 45 tDM maize silage started in mid January and will run out as the new season's crop becomes available.

Currently the farm is running 11,000 kgMS ahead of last season and on target to produce 72,000 kgMS (1,384 kgMS/ha). "This season's production has been limited by the fact that we are milking carryover cows," says Noldy. "Coupled with this, the cows are still growing and so we reckon that we will get even more production next year." The farm's target for the 07/08 season is 80,000 kgMS (1,538 kgMS/ha) and 400 kgMS/cow. "This system works at a $4.00 milksolids and any increase in the pay-out is all profit."

With no additional labour on the farm, Noldy aims to keep his farming system simple. A concrete feed pad and silage storage bunkers are located handy to the milking shed. Currently it takes just 15 minutes to load the maize silage and feed it out. Battery operated automatic gate catches let the cows out of their paddock and they bring themselves to the feed pad prior to milking. "A lot of people say that maize silage is more work," says Noldy, "but if you have good facilities you can feed maize silage without significantly increasing your workload."

Noldy sees good pasture management as the foundation for a successful system incorporating maize silage. "We are aiming to create more feed demand with more cows. This will allow us to grow and utilise more high quality grass and that's exciting," says Noldy. The feedpad allows cows to be stood-off pasture during the winter months when wet weather and heavy Hamilton clay soils can lead to pasture pugging. "As you get older you get sick of seeing hungry cows in the spring. The maize silage in the bunkers means that we can feed the cows well throughout the season no matter whether it is wet or dry."

Noldy is also hoping that the move to maize silage has also reduced cow empty rates. "Each year the bull runs with the herd for six weeks following a three week round of AI. Historically we have had good empty rates, but in the last couple of seasons we have had around 15% empties which is too high. This year it looks like we have dropped to 6-7% which is a big gain."

So what does the future hold for this farm system? "We want to get a consistently higher level of production, while at the same time managing costs and refining the system to create more profit per hectare," says Noldy. "If we can do that, we will also have greater lifestyle options. For example, perhaps one day down the track if I don't want to milk the cows, we can use some of the increased profit to pay casual labour."