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Maize delivers profit, production stability & lifestyle

Mark Henderson (right) with Pioneer Area Manager David McDonald inspect Mark's recently stacked maize silage.

Maize delivers profit, production stability & lifestyle

2008/09 Season

Owners: Mark and Viv Henderson
Farm location: Lepperton

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Maize forms the basis of a simple but highly productive and profitable farm system for Taranaki farmers Mark and Viv Henderson. The Hendersons, and their four daughters Emma (17), Louise (16), Stephanie (12) and Sarah (8), milk 300 cows on 85 ha (eff.) near Lepperton. Their Dairy Base EFS* was $2,638/ha in 05/06 and $2,266/ha in the 2006/07 season.

Mark is the third generation on their land. His grandfather purchased the farm back in 1939 and his father moved onto it when he was two-months-old and never left.

Historically, the Hendersons milked 420 cows on 113 ha (eff.) including 14 ha of lease land. For the past three seasons they produced an average of 1,540 kgMS/ha and 430 kgMS/cow. Last year, the farm underwent significant changes, with the Hendersons selling a piece of land situated between the current farm and the lease. This left them with an 85 ha (eff.) milking platform and a 14 ha run-off.

"I went on an Outward Bound course for parents and teens three years ago and it certainly changed my priorities and focus," says Mark. "Because the farm is situated in an area that has high demand for lifestyle blocks, selling a piece of land and reducing debt was more profitable than milking cows on it. It also allowed us to build a better lifestyle, with more time to do the things we want to do."

The run-off which is located around Tegel chicken sheds, cannot be cropped according to the conditions of the lease. It is used to winter a few cows and pasture is harvested as silage and brought home for feeding predominantly during the summer months.

The Hendersons' herd started as Jersey, switched to Friesian and is now heading the Kiwi-cross route. Many years of artificial breeding has resulted in a high genetic merit herd with a BW of 117 and a PW of 153. Mark is looking for strong, black crossbred cows that produce plenty of milk over a long lactation.

Maize silage was first introduced into the farming system a decade ago to help improve the reproductive performance of the herd.

"Ten years ago, we used 180 CIDRs on 540 cows. We realised modern high genetic merit cows needed to be fed better, so we introduced maize silage," says Mark. "This season, we had submission rates of 92% in three weeks and 95% in four weeks with no intervention."

Each season, Mark and his farm consultant work out how much supplement they will require to feed the herd throughout the year.

"This year, we assumed we would use 200 kg/ha nitrogen and grow 15,500 kgDM of pasture per ha. This left us with a shortfall of 637,500 kgDM that had to be filled with maize silage, winter grazing and pasture silage."

Grass silage from the run-off is used over the summer while the maize silage is fed at 4-8 kgDM/cow/day from harvest in mid March through until six weeks into mating. All the maize silage is purchased from a local contract grower. This year, the Hendersons have ordered 460 tDM/ha of Pioneer® brand 36M28.

"We have a reliable source of maize silage located nearby and buying it in makes our system very easy."

All of the maize silage is inoculated with Pioneer® brand 1174 and stored in above-ground bunkers that have a shingle base and wire netting sides. It is bucketed into a feed-out wagon and fed on a feed pad that doubles as a stand-off pad near the farm dairy.

"Our system is not the quickest and we are really fussy about keeping the silage stack tight," says Mark. "It would take us about 30 minutes to do the complete job most days."

The herd is dried off according to calving date which gives a 300-plus day lactation length while still allowing each cow to have the desired break between lactations.

"Autumn provides the most consistent weather in north Taranaki," says Mark. "We feed maize silage in the autumn to put condition on the cows and extend the lactation to its fullest potential."

The calves stay on the farm to 1 May each year and then go out to contract grazing for 12 months. In-calf heifers come home at the same time and start calving from 14 July. The older cows start calving a week later and, in the 2008/09 season, the herd reached its mid-point of calving by 3 August.

Maize silage has allowed the Hendersons to fully-feed their herd throughout the year, which has been a major benefit.

"I used to struggle seeing cows that were not fully fed," says Mark. "With maize silage we control the season instead of the season controlling us.... I wouldn't farm without it."

Since the farm downsized, the Hendersons have gone from three full-time staff to one.

"Feeding maize silage has allowed us to produce enough milk on the smaller area to keep one staff member. That allows me greater flexibility to do the things I feel are important in life."

So what are the next goals for the Hendersons?

Mark replies: "I'm not driven by owning the biggest farm or the most cows. All I want is a healthy and happy lifestyle, and maize silage is helping us to achieve that."

*Excludes labour adjustment for management.