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Maize provides production stability despite weather challenges

Brett Mackay (right) with Pioneer Area Manager Craig Booth.

Maize provides production stability despite weather challenges

2008/09 Season

Owners: Brett and Tracey Mackay
Farm location: Matauri bay

Trying to reduce the impact of the weather on milk production is a key challenge for Northland farmers Brett and Tracey Mackay. The Mackays, along with twins Sean and Chloe (7), milk a split calving herd of 170 Friesian and Friesian-cross cows on 65 ha (eff.) at Matauri Bay.

They have been on the farm for the past five seasons and have used maize silage every year.

"When we purchased the farm it was set-up to feed maize silage and so we continued to feed it," says Brett. "Our main challenge is knowing what the weather is going to do."

"Maize silage has allowed us to consistently feed our cows so we can produce around 70,000 kgMS (1,077 kgMS/ha) despite the weather."

In the Mackay’s first year on the farm, they purchased maize silage from Kaikohe and trucked it to the farm – a 150 km round trip. The next year, they purchased a 4 ha run-off up the road and have been growing maize there ever since.

For the last two years, they have grown an additional 2 ha on land leased from a neighbour.

Last season, Brett planted Pioneer® brand 33G26 which yielded 25 tDM/ha. This year he has planted a new hybrid, Pioneer® brand 35A30.

"We are looking for total yield and grain yield as well as disease resistance, because we are continuous cropping," says Brett. "We want everything in a hybrid!"

All of the maize silage is inoculated with Pioneer® brand 11C33 before being stored in an above-ground stack. It is fed-out on a feed pad which doubles as a stand-off pad during wet weather.

"11C33 is well worth using," says Brett. "We don’t get the wastage on the face of the stack, it doesn’t heat and the cows eat every bit of it."

The 85 autumn cows start calving on 1 April. They are fed 3-4 kgDM/cow maize silage which is also used as a carrier for palm kernel throughout the autumn. The spring cows start calving on 15 July and both herds are fed maize silage until pasture growth exceeds cow demand.

"This year we fed large amounts of maize silage per cow because it was so wet," says Brett. "We let the cows into the paddock after milking and they wandered back onto the feed pad when they were ready and ate maize silage. On some of the wet days, they were back on the pad by 9am because they preferred to stand on the pad than in a wet, soggy paddock ."

Maize silage feeding starts again in the summer as feed demand exceeds pasture growth when the farm starts to dry out.

"We are coastal and we cop both the easterly and westerly winds," says Brett. "Feeding maize silage gives the cows something to eat which keeps them milking and in good condition while, at the same time, taking pressure off our pastures."

"Land is the most expensive input in my system and maize silage allows me to maximise the drymatter per hectare from the land we have," says Brett. "The yield we get off a maize silage crop is a lot better than we can get from summer crops and we have the additional benefit of being able to feed the maize silage whenever we need it throughout the season."