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Maize integral in smart farming system

Maize integral in smart farming system

2019/20 Season

Owners: Hayden & Jessie Dorman
Farm location: Rakaia, Canterbury
Farm size: 395 effective ha
Herd size: 900 cows
Pioneer® brand hybrids grown: P8805 & P7524

“Maize is not a new thing, but the next generation of farmers are finding new and exciting ways to use it strategically on farm,” Jessie says.

“I believe the pastoral sector relies too heavily on ryegrass alone; it can become so stressed under heat that yields are reduced even when irrigated, and some farmers are having to re-sow it completely. This can only get worse with climate change and less water availability. Combine that with the challenges of nitrogen loss under a ryegrass-only grazing system and it makes sense to explore other options.

“To think outside the square and use not only other crops, but diverse swards as well, is exciting.

“On irrigated coastal Canterbury land, we should be able to grow at least 20 tonnes DM/year off every hectare, regardless of what we are growing.”

The Dormans split-calve 900 cows at Rakaia, Canterbury, on a 395 ha effective farm, 375 ha of which is irrigated.

The herd produces an impressive 495,000kg/ MS on a diet of pasture, grain, Pioneer lucerne and Pioneer maize silage.

While the couple has used bought-in maize silage as a supplement for almost a decade, three seasons ago things changed dramatically on farm.

“We were milking 1,700 cows through two sheds but decided to shut one shed, reduce cow numbers and become self-contained, keeping all wintering cows and young stock on farm,” Jessie says.

“One of the reasons behind this was to have a closed herd; this was before M. bovis but biosecurity is more important now than ever.

“We also wanted full control over growing our young stock well and ensuring wintering cows were getting the best care possible.”

Part of self-containment meant growing their own forage supplement, which included maize as well as lucerne, winter kale and cereal silage.

The Dormans enlisted the help of Pioneer Area Manager Duncan Gillanders and have worked with him over the last three seasons to establish a healthy maize crop.

“Duncan has been great, helping us select our maize hybrids and offering advice and support,” Jessie says.

“We’ve double-checked nutrient requirements with Duncan to ensure the specific needs of the maize plants are being met at different stages. We’ve also involved Pioneer’s Farm Systems Specialist Ian Williams to ensure we are getting the best value out of the maize as a feed.”

The Dormans grew 36 ha of maize this season - Pioneer hybrids P8805 and P7524 - and will increase that area to 48 ha in the 2019-20 season. Yield is between 20-24 tonnes DM/ha.

“A key use for maize silage on our farm is as a transitional feed for cows going from dry to lactating,” Jessie says.

“A cow with a less than ideal body condition score and/or energy deficit at calving will underperform for the rest of her lactation.”

“A great diet, leading up to calving and straight after, is critical to ensure the best outcome.”

Maize silage is also a key part of their lactating cows’ winter diet. Some maize silage is fed through winter to lighter dry cows, alongside pasture and grass silage, and also on the shoulders of autumn and spring should a genuine feed deficit occur. Spring calvers are also given some ‘TLC’ by way of maize silage where required from spring and throughout mating.

The Dormans are also looking forward to discovering if in-calf rates have improved due to better focus on individual body condition scores.

Growing maize on farm is particularly cost-effective, with irrigated areas yielding at least 20 tonnes DM/ha, and as all maize silage is fed on the feed pads there is optimal utilisation of the supplement.

Maize silage also meets the criteria of an excellent low-nitrogen feed, helping the farm adhere to Canterbury’s nitrogen loss limits.

Duncan says a visit to the Dormans’ farm never fails to impress him.

“The farm is tidy and well-presented with happy, healthy stock; it’s very clear that they are good farmers,” he says.

“Hayden and Jessie are hardworking people with good values; they are smart and progressive while raising a young family.

“To be so well-known and influential at their age speaks volumes about the kind of farmers they are; they are leading by example.”

Jessie says the decision to become self-contained was a good one.

“It’s about good outcomes – not only profit but people, environment and cows – and these aspects all need to line up in order to meet that objective,” she says.

“We see it as an exciting, not daunting, challenge.”