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Maize secures winter feed supply

Maize secures winter feed supply

2011/12 Season

Owners: Hayden & Alecia Lawrence
Farm location: Taranaki
Farm size: 93 ha

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Maize silage provides a secure and cost-effective winter feed supply helping Hayden and Alecia Lawrence and son Fletcher (1) to produce more than 500 kgMS/cow on a "fairly challenging" property 7 km south of Eltham in Taranaki.

The 93 ha farm, which is owned in equity partnership with Hayden’s parents Ray and Joyce Lawrence, has an 85 ha milking platform, as well as 8 ha of very steep country which is used for heifer grazing. In the 2011-12 season, the 235 cow Friesian and Friesian cross herd produced 124,000 kgMS (1459 kgMS/ha and 528 kgMS/cow).

“Contour is our key challenge with half the milking platform rolling to steep and because the farm is 260m above sea level we get a lot of wind and less heat”, says Hayden.

The family purchased the property in 1981 and, in 2008, Hayden (who holds a PhD in Precision Agricultural Systems) and Alecia came onto the farm as 30% lower order sharemilkers for the equity partnership.

In the first season, cows were wintered off-farm but the next year, when the grazier sold his property, Hayden had to look for other wintering options.

“Market grazing rates were too high so we decided to look at ways to winter the cows at home”, says Hayden. “We planted kale and green globe turnips for the older cows and wintered the younger ones on pasture. Crops yielded 15 tDM/ha, but we struggled to get more than 70% utilisation and paddocks were out of the grazing round for a very long time.”

In the third season, maize silage was purchased for the younger cows that were not on crop. Feeding maize worked so well the Lawrence’s made the decision to move to a maize silage-based wintering system for the entire herd.

For the past two seasons they have grown around 6 ha of Pioneer® brand maize for silage at home and purchased in an additional three hectares. Maize silage is fed from late April through to early spring on a 250 cow stand-off pad which includes a weeping wall to separate solid and liquid wastes.

Dry cows are fed on 48 hour pasture breaks. At 4pm on the second day they are put onto the stand-off pad and fed a mix of 12 kgDM maize silage and 4 kgDM palm kernel extract. They stay on the pad till 6am the following morning when Batt-Latches let them onto the new break.

“The cows are full and therefore more settled when they head onto the break. We get a whole lot less pasture damage and mud”, says Hayden.

“Maize silage is a low-cost, high-quality bulk feed that’s great for putting condition on cows."

Maize is grown on farm as part of an 18 month cropping system. It is sown in October and harvested in mid-March to early April. Once the maize silage comes off, the area is planted in annual ryegrass for the winter, chicory for the summer and direct drilled with permanent pasture the following April.

Hayden monitors yields carefully and is achieving close to 20 tDM/ha of maize, 10 tDM/ha of annual ryegrass and 14 tDM/ha of chicory, giving an 18 month yield of 44 tDM/ha.

“Maize reliably produces high drymatter yields and new pastures established after the cropping regime are producing 18 tDM/ha which is more than 30% higher than older pastures."

The use of technology sets this farm apart. Cows calve on wood chips in the implement shed and are monitored via an infra-red camera linked to the Lawrence’s bedroom. A DeLaval Alpro® system in the milking shed identifies each cow, tracks their milk yield, weight and health. It allows high-energy maize grain to be fed throughout the lactation at rates determined by each cow’s production level.

“Our aim has been to establish an environmentally sustainable system that can produce the same production year in, year out”, says Hayden. “It’s all about identifying the right crops and the right feeds for the right time of the year.”