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Maize silage delivering production and profit

Alistar Jordan (centre) with son Kent (left) and farm manager Murray Hinz (right) in front of their maize silage stack.

Maize silage delivering production and profit

2007/08 Season

Owners: Alistar and Diane Jordan
Farm location: Egmont Village
Farm size: 184 ha (eff.)
Herd size: 560 cows

Cricket and dairying are joint passions for Taranaki farmer Alistar Jordan. Alistar played 1st class cricket for Central Districts from 1968-1980, represented New Zealand in the 1973 tour to Australia and has been coach for the Taranaki cricket team for the past six years.

Alistar and his wife Diane's home farm, located near Egmont Village on the side of Mt Taranaki, is managed by their son Kent and Murray Hinz. In the 2006/07 season, they milked 440 Friesian cows on 135 ha (eff.) and produced 199,000 kgMS (1,474 kgMS/ha and 452 kgMS/cow). The home farm was increased to 184 ha (eff.) by the purchase of an additional block of land in August 2007. This season, they are milking 560 cows and are on track to produce 249,000 kgMS.

The Jordans' other farming investments include a 130 ha (eff.) dairy farm on the edge of the Egmont National Park where they are milking 320 cows, a 25 ha maize block at Waitara and a 135 ha run-off. They are also partners in a 91 ha (eff.) dairy farm just across the road where daughter Amanda is sharemilking.

Cold winters and an annual rainfall of 2.8-3.1 metres are major limitations for dairying on the home farm, which is situated at around 305 m above sea level. "Cows can lose condition quite quickly in the winter when we have a lot of days of cold rain on end," says Alistar.

Alistar grew maize for the first time back in 1977. The first season's crop was green-fed to the herd but the next year he didn't need the feed in the late summer.

"We long chopped it and ensiled it," says Alistar. "I remember feeding it out with cows scrambling on the tray of the tractor and thinking that it had to be good."

A lack of knowledge and equipment meant that Alistar's next attempt at maize silage was not until the late 1980s. "We made better silage but we had big fat cows that weren't giving us a lot of milk. I always thought that maize silage had a lot of potential because no other crop could produce as much feed per hectare so I set about looking for someone who could help me turn the maize silage into milk."

Alistar's quest for information led him to be one of the first farmers to join Intelact Nutrition when they started up in the mid 1990s. With the assistance of Intelact, Alistair has built a very successful system that feeds around 1 tDM of maize silage per cow each year.

"I always thought that maize silage had potential," says Alistar. "Now I swear by it and I wouldn't farm without it."

The home farm milks two herds through a 50 bale rotary shed. For the last five years, they have run a split calving system with 162 cows calving in the autumn to fulfil a winter milk contract. Changes to the winter milk payment structure mean that they will not be winter milking from now on. Autumn calving cows were milked through to get everything back to spring calving.

The herd calves on 25 July and is fed pasture supplemented with maize silage, palm kernel and molasses until after mating.

All of the supplements are loaded into a Seko mixer wagon and fed on a feed pad. The target drymatter intake is 17-18 kgDM/cow/day. "Mostly we feed 3-4 kgDM/cow once-a-day but, if we are short of pasture, we move to twice-a-day feeding and feed up to 6 kgDM."

By the time mating is over, the grass has normally come away and the cows are fed all-grass. The aim is to leave a post-grazing residual of 1,500 kgDM/ha and, if the paddocks drop below this level, maize silage is reintroduced.

"Maize silage is such a great tool for managing pasture cover levels because you can put it in and take it out depending on pasture growth rates."

The farm's location and high rainfall mean that summer grass growth is normally good. Precision cut grass silage that is made on the Waitara block is used to supplement the herd as required.

The Waitara block is also used to grow the farm's maize silage. "We bought the block so that we could be in control of our maize silage supply," says Alistar.

"It was one of the best decisions I have made because the growing conditions are great and we can bring maize silage home and stack it for 15-16 c/kgDM."

This year, Alistar has planted Pioneer® brand 36M28. "In the past we always looked for a hybrid that would deliver us a good tonnage, but now we are starting to look for hybrids that will deliver excellent yield together with high grain, high energy silage." All of the maize silage is inoculated with Pioneer® brand 1174 to maximise its quality.

The maize silage is harvested between 20 March and 10 April depending on heat unit accumulation during the season. "We start feeding maize silage the day that it goes in the bunker and continue throughout the autumn at around 5 kgDM/cow/day."

The aim of autumn feeding is to put weight on the cows although Alistar is quick to point out "when you feed maize silage all year round you don't get skinny cows." Normally the herd holds at CS 4.5-5.0 throughout the season so it's relatively easy to take them over CS 5.0 at calving.

So how profitable is this farming system?

"It's profitable," says Alistar. "And the money we have generated from running a more intensive system using maize silage on the home farm has allowed us to increase our asset base."