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More maize silage, less milk fever

More maize silage, less milk fever

2013/14 Season

Owners: Scott & Leone Evans
Farm location: Oxford, North Canterbury
Farm size: 311 ha
Herd size: 1,250

Scott and Leone along with their children, Ryder (7) and Chloe (4) milk 1,250 cows on 311 ha near Oxford in North Canterbury. Scott, who worked in construction prior to going farming, has been managing the farm which is owned by his parents, Grant and Judy Evans, for the past five seasons.

Scott and Leone purchased the herd and commenced 50:50 sharemilking at the start of the 2012-13 season. When Scott first started managing the farm he was doing long hours. His focus was to build a simple system where everyone shares the workload. The farm is split into three blocks which are managed by Hayden Smith, Tim Coster and Phillp Strong, while Scott oversees the whole operation and helps where needed.

“Now everyone works a five day week” says Scott. The system is simple and everyone loves it”.

The farms three herds are milked through a 50-bale rotary shed. Two herds of Friesian and Friesiancross cows are on twice-a-day milking, while the third, predominantly Jersey herd, is on once-a-day.

“The farm is long and it’s a 4.5 km return trip from the back paddocks to the shed” says Scott. “It’s too far to walk the cows twice each day”.

When Scott first came home to the farm, milk fever was a major issue. “We used to feed triticale silage but the cows didn’t like it and it was bad for milk fever” says Scott. “We would have 100-200 cows go down with milk fever each spring. It was a nightmare”.

“Maize silage will always have a place in our spring management system”.

Three years ago farm consultant Helwi Tacoma recommended feeding a mix of one-third maize silage, one-third hay, one-third pasture and anionic salts to springers. The results were “nothing short of incredible” with just six clinical milk fever cases in 2012 and seven in 2013.

Dry cows are scanned, grouped according to calving date and wintered on kale plus hay or silage on a neighbouring lease farm. Springers are pulled out and fed the maize-hay-pasture diet for the two weeks prior to calving which starts on 1 August. They are brought to the shed each day where the calved cows are drafted out, put in a colostrum herd on the home farm and fed pasture and 4-5 kgDM maize silage per cow per day.

Maize silage feeding continues throughout the early lactation until the stack is finished. At this point Scott moves to grass silage which fills any feed deficits until the irrigated pasture comes away in the late spring. He also feeds 250 – 500 kg/cow of barley through an in-shed feeding system.

Three years ago the Evans planted their first 8 ha of Pioneer® brand maize silage on a run-off block. The amount of maize silage fed has increased over time and in the 2013-14 season they have grown and purchased a total of 400 tDM .

“We’re looking for hybrids that deliver yield, quality and palatability” says Scott. “The cows eat the maize silage well, in fact they prefer it to grass silage”.

Maize silage is fed along fence lines. Pioneer® brand 11C33 maize silage inoculant is applied at harvest time and this allows Scott to feed out a day in advance without the silage heating.

“Feeding out the day before means I have a bit of time up my sleeve if anything goes wrong the next day”.

In the 2013-14 season the farm is on track to produce 540,000 kgMS (432 kgMS/cow or 1,736 kgMS/ha), which is substantially more than the farm’s average production of around 400,000 kgMS prior to the system changes.

“The cows eat the maize silage well, in fact they prefer it to grass silage”.

With environmental rules beginning to tighten, Scott believes the farms stocking rate has peaked and that future production gains will come from lifting per cow production particularly in the once-a-day herd.

“Maize silage will always have a place in our spring management system” says Scott. “Given the milk fever problem we used to have, I would be worried calving without it”.