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Profit from keeping costs down, production up

Profit from keeping costs down, production up

2014/15 Season

Owners: Tony & Louise Collingwood
Farm location: Otorohanga, Waikato
Farm size: 100 ha (eff.)
Herd size: 335

Keeping costs down and production up is the key to Tony and Louise Collingwood's profitable dairy farm system.

The couple, along with sons Thomas (9) and Riley (7), milk 355 mainly Jersey cows on 100 effective hectares at Kiokio near Otorohanga. 

In the 2013-14 season the farm generated an EFS of $6,100/ha by producing 141,000 kgMS (397 kgMS/cow and 1,400 kgMS/ ha) with a production cost of $3.68/kgMS. In 2014-15 they are on track to produce 150,000 kgMS. 

The couple, who met when they were both working as Consulting Officers for DairyNZ, purchased the farm in 2005. Louise oversees the day-to-day running of the farm while Tony, who works for a local bank, helps with strategic decisions. They employ two full-time staff. 

While the farm started off as a highly stocked, almost all-grass system, it has evolved into a System 3 to 4 operation which feeds up to 1 tDM/cow of bought-in supplements including maize silage, pasture silage and palm kernel each year. 

“We first purchased maize silage on the spot market in the 2007-08 drought when we were seriously short of feed” says Louise. “It worked really well for us and since then we have purchased around 120 tDM each year from a local contractor.” 

Maize silage is typically fed from February through to drying off. 

“We use maize to lengthen the lactation and to put condition on cows, while at the same time building pasture cover levels” says Louise. “It’s a much more consistent quality than grass silage and it’s very easy to feed.” 

The herd starts calving on 14 July and normally half the cows are in by the end of the month. If the weather is poor and pasture is in short supply, the maize stack is opened at the start of calving, and cows are fed maize silage until spring pasture balance date. 

One of the key benefits of feeding maize silage in the autumn has been better conditioned cows which produce more milk and cycle faster. 

“We’ve never calved cows as fat as they were this spring” says Louise. “The herd peaked at 2.25 kgMS/cow which is great for 370 kg Jersey and Jersey cross cows, and we had the lowest number of non-cyclers.” 

While many farmers have recently installed in-shed feeding systems, the Collingwoods have gone against the trend. They sold their in-shed feeding system (which came with the farm), and built a feed pad instead. 

“A meal feeding system is not a practical solution for filling a large feed deficit or for feeding dry cows, and the wastage was terrible” says Louise. “It took me a reasonable period of time to be convinced to put in a feed pad but it has proven to be a great investment.” 

Feeding supplements on the feed pad minimises wastage and also pasture damage, especially in the wetter paddocks. It has been designed so bins can be quickly and easily filled from the outside using a side-delivery feed-out wagon. 

In the last two droughts one herd went onto the feed pad after milking and were fed a mix of maize silage, grass silage and palm kernel before being put in a sacrifice paddock at 11 am. The other herd came onto the pad and were fed their supplements prior to the afternoon milking. 

“The cows were full and happy, and it allowed us to minimise the amount of damage they did to the pastures” says Louise. 

The Collingwoods have built a 200 tDM silage bunker adjacent to the feed pad and while it hasn’t yet been filled, they believe it will provide them with options in the future. 

“We’ve set up our system to be flexible” says Louise. “If palm kernel was ever unavailable, or too expensive we can always feed more maize silage.” 

The Collingwood’s maize stack