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Maize silage is a low cost feed, the cows never refuse it and there is very little wastage

Maize silage is a low cost feed, the cows never refuse it and there is very little wastage

2015/16 Season

Owners: Kevin and Linda Davidson
Farm location: Waipawa, Hawke's Bay
Farm size: 460 ha
Herd size: 2000

Kevin, along with his wife Linda, milk 2,000 Friesian-Jersey cross cows on 460 ha of irrigated land at Waipawa in the Hawke’s Bay. Their farm partnership, Plantation Road Dairies, is New Zealand’s largest supplier from a single milking shed. In the 2015/16 season it is on track to produce 950,000 kgMS (475 kgMS/cow and 2,065 kgMS/ha).

Kevin was keen to go farming when he left school but his father encouraged him to get a trade first. After completing an electrical apprenticeship and starting a business, he secured his first dairy farming job on wages in 1981.
Just one year later, the couple moved to their first sharemilking job milking 150 cows at Waitoa. 

Gordon and Fay Edgecombe, who were top farmers in the region, came to help them unpack. “Gordon and I decided to leave the girls to undo the boxes while we had a look around the farm” says Kevin. “I think he realised how green I was and so he took me under his wing”.

The pair came to an arrangement which lasted over three years. Every Sunday they would pasture walk Kevin’s farm and later in the week, they would walk Gordon’s farm.

“Gordon taught me pasture management and I took to it like a duck to water” says Kevin. “I loved maths and once I realised you could farm cows using maths, it was easy”.

The next nine years saw a succession of sharemilking jobs as the couple increased cow numbers. It was during this time that the Davidsons first started growing and feeding Pioneer® brand maize silage and they have planted a crop every spring for the past 29 years.

“Maize silage is a low cost feed, the cows never refuse it and there is very little wastage” says Kevin.

In 1993 they purchased their first farm, a rundown 53 ha property at Orini. They altered the shed, upgraded the water system and were early clients of the Intelact group. “It was an exciting time. We increased pasture harvest to 14.5 tDM/ha and milk production to 1,500 - 1,600 kg/ha. That level of production was unheard of back then”. 

By the end of the 1990’s, Kevin and Linda decided they needed to either find something bigger or stay put until their five children had finished high school. A strong friendship forged with Peter and Debbie Shepherd, who were farming nearby, led to a partnership which included Peter’s father, Colin. They jointly purchased 340 ha of land in Hawke’s Bay and converted it to dairy with the block’s original owner Phil King leaving money in the venture for the first few seasons.

“We shifted onto the farm in early April, sprayed out the existing pasture and planted fescue” says Kevin. “There was zero pasture cover at calving so we hard fed the cows until early September”.

A total of 1,200 cows were calved in the first season but the new pastures grew so fast that they purchased another 100 cows just prior to Christmas to keep up with the feed.

Initially the farm system relied upon a large volume of by-products from a number of processors including Watties and McCains. Today they have developed a system that is almost totally self-sufficient with maize for silage, greenfeed oats, brassicas, cereal silage and barley for grain being grown on a mix of leased and owned support land.

“By-products were cheap but as demand increased they became more and more expensive” says Kevin. “Eventually it reached a point where it was cheaper for us to grow our own feed”.

This season they have planted 150 ha of Pioneer® brand 39V43 and 38V12. “We are looking for a short-season hybrid with a high grain content and good energy levels” says Kevin. “We’ve always planted Pioneer because they have great hybrids and excellent technical back-up”.

“We budget on an average maize silage yield of 20 tDM/ha. In a good year we might do more than this, but we never do less. At 14 c/kgDM maize silage is our cheapest supplement”.

Once the maize silage is harvested, the area is planted in annual ryegrass or a ryegrass and oat mix and grazed over the winter months.

Half of the farms 2,000 cows calve 1 August and the other half 1 February. The spring calving herd is milked until June with cows being dried off progressively 50 days from calving. High performing empty cows are carried over to the next calving to help the farm meet an ambitious 2,000 kgMS/day winter milk contract.

Kevin targets a rotation length of 30 days in the spring extending to a maximum of 50 days in the autumn. He believes the keys to profitable production are maximising pasture harvest and using low-cost supplements year-round
to enhance production. In the 2014/15 season the farm had a cost of production of $4.20/kgMS.

The farm supplies Fonterra as well as Origin Earth, a Hawke’s Bay based owner-operated dairy company which produces fresh milk, pot set yoghurts and a range of specialty cheeses.

Dairy farming has allowed Plantation Road Dairies to support a range of charitable projects. These include Veronica’s Place, which provides a safe, supportive home for teenage mums as they prepare for their future and Bright Hope World, a Christian based humanitarian organisation who work globally with the poorest of the poor.

“Our long term plan is to set up an efficient business managed by equity partners which will support the projects we believe in for many years to come” says Kevin.