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Maize silage is the most cost effective forage we can grow

Maize silage is the most cost effective forage we can grow

2015/16 Season

Owners: Tim Montgomerie and Jo Brown
Farm location: Rotorangi, Waikato
Farm size: 80 ha
Herd size: 380

Tim, his wife Jo and their three children, Matthew (17), Thomas (15) and Kate (12) 50:50 sharemilk on two Waikato farms. They are also shareholders in an equity partnership in Southland.

The 80 ha home farm located between Hamilton and Cambridge, milks 380 cows in a 60% autumn calving, 40% spring calving system. In the 2013/14 season it produced 2,270 kgMS/ha and 473 kgMS/cow. Their cost of production was $4.62/kgMS. The farm generated an operating profit of $9,551/ha and the return on capital was 9.3%.

The Rotorangi farm, which was a finalist in the Dairy Business of the Year competition, milks 460 spring-calving cows. In the 2013/14 season it produced 1,675 kgMS/ha and 401 kgMS/cow. Their cost of production was $4.42/kgMS. The farm generated an operating profit of $6,776/ha and the return on capital was 9.0%.

Tim returned to the home farm after completing an agricultural degree at Massey University in 1989. The property, which is owned by his parents, was a town supply farm with a history of higher feed inputs than was the norm for dairy farms in the early 1990’s. Over the past two decades Tim has fine-tuned the feeding regime to increase production and profit.

“We always use the lowest cost feed first and for us this is nitrogen-boosted pasture” says Tim. “Currently we are harvesting around 14 tDM/ha”.

With a stocking rate close to 5 cows/ha, there are few days when pasture supply keeps pace with cow demand. Around half of the cows’ diet is comprised of supplements and maize silage, grown on leased support land and fed at 1 tDM/cow, is used as the base for the supplementary feeding regime.

“For the past 20 years maize silage has been our supplement of choice. It is consistent in quality, blends well with other feeds and is the most cost-effective forage we can grow. We feed it at 1 - 7 kgDM/cow/day virtually year-round”.

A feed pad is a critical part of the farm’s feed management program.

“Winter milking really exposes you to the consequences of pugging pasture” says Tim. “I wouldn’t farm without a feed pad because it allows us to manage pasture residuals, reduce pasture damage and minimise supplement wastage”.

Tim uses later lactation cows as a pasture management tool. Freshly calved cows graze the paddocks first leaving a residual of 1,800 - 1,900 kgDM. Then the later lactation cows come in and graze down to 1,500 - 1,600 kgDM.

“The secret is to watch residuals and avoid screwing the cows down too hard” says Tim. “Cows do 90% of the damage to pastures when they are looking for the last 10% of feed”.

Back fencing and changing the direction of fences also helps to protect pastures.

While intensive farm systems which produce a lot of milk are well positioned to generate very high returns in high payout seasons, the challenge is to maintain profitability when the payout falls.

“Over the years we have developed the discipline to drop feeds depending on how the numbers stack up” says Tim. “We’ve fed by-products such as kiwifruit and brewers grain which have just become too expensive. Higher cost
concentrates play a strategic role in high payout years but they are removed from the system when the milk price falls”.

While most of the maize silage is grown on lease land, in the 2015/16 season Tim has planted 6 ha of Pioneer® brand P9911 on the Rotorangi farm.

“Growing maize silage at home has allowed us to keep a cap on feed costs in a low payout season”.

Tim has always planted Pioneer and is happy with the hybrids as well as the technical back-up. “We only ever adopt proven technologies and products we have confidence in”.

While many of the past farm system changes have been profit-driven, Tim believes environmental requirements will increasingly shape how he farms in the future.

“We view ourselves as caretakers of the land and it is our responsibility to ensure it is in great shape when we hand it over to the next generation” says Tim.

“I’d like to think that the land I have milked cows on will be physically and environmentally equal to, or better than the land anyone else has farmed”.