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Profitable and environmentally friendly

Profitable and environmentally friendly

2010/11 Season

Owners: Paul & Chris MacKenzie
Farm location: Waharoa, Eastern Waikato

A highly productive system is reaping financial and environment rewards for Paul and Chris MacKenzie. The MacKenzies' farm 83 hectares at Waharoa in the Eastern Waikato. In the 2010-11 season, their 356 cow split-calving Friesian and Friesian cross herd produced 227,000 kgMS (637 kgMS/cow and 2,734 kgMS/ha). This year they have lifted cow numbers and are on track to produce 250,000 kgMS (3,012 kgMS/ha).

Excellent facilities, including two Herd Homes®1, a mixer wagon and welldesigned and planned feed bunkers, are central to the success of the operation. While production is impressive the system itself is relatively simple to run. Contract milker Nic Coppard (21) manages the day-to-day operations, assisted by farm worker David Candy (20). This leaves Paul and Chris free to pursue off-farm interests.

"A lot of high input systems appear to be labour intensive and I didn't want that", says Paul. "Our aim was to build a simple system that did not require a lot of time to manage."

Cows are dried off 50 days prior to their expected calving date. They spend 30 days on a dry cow diet comprising of 3-4 kgDM pasture plus 8-10 kgDM supplements including maize silage, straw and a range of by-products. Three weeks prior to calving they are moved onto a transition diet.

Two-thirds of the herd, including all of the heifers, calve between 20 February and 1 May. The balance of the herd consists of carryover cows and spring calvers which start calving on 1 September.

Once cows have calved, intakes are lifted to 21-22 kgDM/cow/day. Typically pasture intake is around 6 kgDM with the other 15 kgDM being a mix of supplements including maize silage, straw, palm kernel extract and byproducts. Each morning Batt latches open the paddock gate at 3am allowing the cows to wander back to the Herd Home®1 where they consume their supplement allowance prior to the 5am milking. Once cows are milked they return to the paddock. This process is repeated prior to the afternoon milking.

Last season the MacKenzies grew 15 ha of Pioneer® brand maize silage and this season they have planted 25 ha (30%) of the farm in maize. Pioneer® brand 36M28 is the hybrid of choice because it produces good yields, stands up to wind and can be planted at the end of September and harvested around 20 February.

"We can get 24 tDM/ha of low cost maize silage that is good quality and safe to feed", says Nic. "It fits in well with our pasture renewal programme and allows us to increase the total amount of feed we harvest from every hectare."

Dairy effluent from under the Herd Homes®1 is applied to the paddocks prior to maize planting.

"Growing maize allows us to use our effluent in an environmentally-friendly manner", says Paul. "Dairy effluent is ideal for growing maize and we are growing crops with no or very little additional fertiliser."

Last year's analysis of the farm system using Overseer shows the farm leached just 28 kgN/ha. This is the level of nitrogen loss currently being achieved by low-stocked organic systems. It is also delivering excellent profit per hectare.

"It's a flexible system that is based on margins", says Paul. "Each time we buy in feed we get the chance to check whether the numbers stack up." Watching healthy, well-conditioned cows produce high milk yields is satisfying for everyone involved. "We are producing more than 600 kgMS per cow using the same animals that used to produce 350 kgMS in an all-grass system", says Paul. "I enjoy farming like this and I'd be reluctant to go back."

So what does the future hold for this farm which in many ways is already ahead of itself?

"I wouldn't rule out further intensification if it was sustainable", says Paul. "It's a cheaper option than buying more land."

 

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