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Wintering barn brings peace of mind

Wintering barn brings peace of mind

2013/14 Season

Owners: Daniel & Penny Burgess
Farm location: Studholme, South Canterbury
Farm size: 115 ha
Herd size: 390
Pioneer® brand hybrids grown: 39G12

The couple milk a Friesian herd on 115 ha near Studholme. In the 2012-13 season their 375 cows produced 181,000 kgMS (483 kgMS/cow and 1,574 kg/ha) and in 2013-14 they are on track to produce 195,000 kgMS from 390 cows (500 kgMS/cow and 1,696 kgMS/ha).

Daniel and Penny, who began their farming career sharemilking in the Waikato and Canterbury respectively, bought the coastal property almost eight years ago. While the land is good, a key limitation is its poor draining soil type.

“The soil is relatively shallow with clay underneath” says Daniel. “When it gets wet it takes a very long time to dry”.

“We pretty soon discovered it was pointless trying to feed out in the paddock when the ground was wet. We had days when the herd stood in wet paddocks bawling”.

The desire to feed their cows well regardless of the weather led the couple to build a 400-cow wintering barn three years ago. The 100 m long by 36 m wide structure has a concrete floor with automatic scrapers which move manure to a central point where it can be pumped into a storage pond. Cow comfort is enhanced by padded foam mattresses and a rotary back scratcher.

“We looked at building a feed pad but the key issue was what to do with the volume of rain water and manure that would come off it” says Daniel. “A wintering barn was more expensive, but it generated less effluent and allowed us to keep the cows inside for longer periods of time and fully feed them”.

“The big benefit of maize silage is that you know what you’re going to get when you plant it”.

Once the barn was completed, cow numbers were increased from 330 to 370 and production lifted from 150,000 kgMS in 2011- 12 to 180,000 kgMS the following season. The farm’s nitrogen leaching dropped to just 20 kgN/ha per year despite the increase in stocking rate.

Maize silage was chosen as the base forage to feed while cows were in the wintering barn. The acreage has increased over the past three seasons and in the 2013-14 season the couple planted 10 ha of Pioneer® brand 39G12 on a neighbouring run-off and are also purchasing 6 ha from a nearby grower. Crops yield around 17 tDM/ha.

“The big benefit of maize silage is that you know what you’re going to get when you plant it” says Daniel. “The quality is always there, the cows like it and they put on condition very quickly”.

Historically half the herd was wintered across the road at the runoff and the other half was sent to off-farm grazing. Now they are split between the run-off and the barn but there is the flexibility to bring the whole herd inside if weather conditions are poor.

“Last June was terribly wet and so we made the call to put the entire herd into the barn for a month” says Daniel. “The cows were huddled in a paddock on the lease block looking miserable, but they started running when they realised they were heading for the barn. We fed out a load of feed and then another one a couple of hours later and they ate and ate until they were full”.

“We aim to maximise the amount of pasture we get into the cows, but we have the flexibility to add as much supplement as we need so they are fully fed”.

Springers are fed just over half their diet in pasture and the balance is a mix of maize silage, wheat straw, molasses, grass silage, barley and minerals which is fed through a mixer wagon. Cows start calving around 31 July and milkers are fed the same supplement mix at varying rates depending on pasture availability.

“We aim to maximise the amount of pasture we get into the cows, but we have the flexibility to add as much supplement as we need so they are fully fed” says Daniel.

With a little bit of fine tuning the couple believe they can lift per cow production to 550 kgMS/cow.

“Maize silage will definitely have a long term place in our system” says Daniel. “It’s a great feed”.