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Maize silage and lucerne drive production

Maize silage and lucerne drive production

2014/15 Season

Owners: Mark & Kelsey Williams
Farm location: Rolleston, Canterbury
Farm size: 140 ha (eff.)
Herd size: 550

Three seasons of dairying have delivered plenty of challenges for Canterbury couple Mark and Kelsey Williams and their children, Reeve (10) and Addison (7).

The couple were growing lucerne for sale into the racehorse industry on 80 ha near Darfield, when they decided to give dairying a go and purchased a nearby 100 ha dryland sheep farm. Today they are milking 550 Friesian cows on a total of 140 ha which includes a 40 ha lease block. 

In the 2013-14 season production was 296,000 kgMS (538 kgMS/cow and 2,114 kgMS/ha). In the 2015 season the stocking rate has increased to 600 cows and the farm is on track to produce 320,000 kgMS in 2014-15. 

Farm Manager Rory Burgess handles the day-to-day running of the farm and Kelsey handles the administration, while Mark describes his job as the “Risk Manager”. He has had plenty of opportunity to fulfil this role since purchasing the farm. Set-up delays made the first year tough, and in the 2013-14 season a wind storm crumpled the pivot irrigator leaving it out of action for several months. This resulted in a $300,000 bill for extra feed. Spring 2014 delivered cold, dry weather and slow pasture growing conditions, while the falling payout has carved a significant amount off the budgeted bottom line. 

Still, Mark doesn’t regret the move to dairying, and he is enjoying seeing the daily milk dockets. 

“It’s a great way of farming because every day you can see how well you have done.” 

The farm, which has an annual rainfall of just 750 mm, relies on irrigation for pasture growth. Supplements are a critical part of the equation. In the 2013-14 season the cows were fed 1.5 tDM/cow, but this year they are hoping to feed 800–900 kgDM/cow. 

“Last season we fed a lot of supplements when the irrigator was out of action” says Mark. “This year we’ve budgeted to spend a lot less.” 

Before the conversion took place, Mark researched various ways to feed cows up to a third of their diet as supplements, and the couple settled on a feed pad rather than feeding grain in the shed. 

“Grain is expensive so we decided to use maize silage and lucerne which we can grow ourselves” he says. “They’re a great combination, with maize providing plenty of carbohydrate and lucerne supplying the protein.” 

The original lucerne block now acts as a support block for the dairy operation and is used to grow 20 ha of maize, as well as 60 ha of lucerne. An additional 20 ha of maize is purchased from a neighbour. 

“Our maize crops produce an average of 20 tDM/ha” says Mark. “The quality is consistent, the cows love it and it’s safe and easy to feed.” 

Solids from the farm’s feed pad are spread onto the maize ground prior to planting in late October. 

“Effluent is a resource not a waste product for us” says Mark. “We use half as much fertiliser as the neighbours, and still grow maize crops which consistently yield 20 tDM/ ha and cost us 26 c/kgDM fed out.” 

Mark is looking for a maize silage hybrid which will produce high drymatter yields as well as plenty of grain. This season he planted Pioneer® brand 39G12. Once the maize comes off the ground the area is planted in annual ryegrass which is used to feed the springers when they return from winter grazing. 

The farm runs a split calving system with 550 spring and 50 autumn calving cows. Last year’s empties have been mated to calve in late January, so there will be 100 cows to milk through the winter. 

“A good supply of lucerne and maize silage and a feed pad means we can easily milk year round” says Mark. “It’s a fairly simple system.”

The Williams' dairy shed and feed pad