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Maize silage helping Northland farmers eradicate kikuyu

Keith Trotter (right) with daughter Miah and Pioneer Area Manager Craig Booth (left) on Keith and Jenny's Matakana dairy farm

Maize silage helping Northland farmers eradicate kikuyu

2007/08 Season

Owners: Keith and Jenny Trotter
Farm location: Matakana
Farm size: 77 ha (eff.)
Herd size: 240 cows

The challenge of eradicating kikuyu and bringing a new block into dairying led Northland farmers Keith and Jenny Trotter to grow maize silage for the first time in spring 2006.

Keith and Jenny and their children James (17), David (10) and Miah (3) farm at Matakana, east of Warkworth. Their original dairy farm (purchased in 1993) was 77 ha (eff.) and produced 82,221 kgMS (1,068 kgMS/ha and 343 kgMS/cow) from 240 cows in the 2006/07 season.

The Trotters purchased a 54 ha kikuyu block, located just across the road, in June 2006. A comment from a friend got Keith thinking about using maize to get rid of the kikuyu so that they could gradually bring the land into dairying.

For the past two seasons, the Trotters have planted Pioneer® brand 34B23. Last year's 6 ha crop was impressive and Keith estimates it yielded in excess of 22 tDM/ha. This season, they have increased the area in maize to 12.5 ha, which includes a 5 ha block that is leased to a neighbour.

"Maize is the easiest way to quickly get value from land by growing something that will produce a lot of milk from a small area."

Eradicating kikuyu is not easy. The Trotters have opted to plant maize silage in the same area for two consecutive seasons, with a winter crop of annual ryegrass between the maize crops. The area is sprayed in the spring before the maize is planted and again in the autumn after maize silage harvest. When the second maize crop is harvested, the area will be planted in permanent pasture.

"We tried growing a crop of turnips but it didn't work so well because there was too much kikuyu through it," says Keith. "Maize silage is great because it's helping us to eradicate the kikuyu, it's easy to feed-out and it's fantastic for putting weight on cows."

Last year's maize silage was stored on the milking platform in two above-ground stacks built on a limestone base. It was fed in the paddock using a centre feed feed-out wagon.

"We used the first stack in the autumn to increase cow condition and pasture cover prior to drying off," says Keith. "We started the spring on all-grass and fed the second stack at the beginning of September when the clay soils were a bit drier. We continued feeding maize silage at 4-5 kgDM/cow/day until the beginning of November when the pasture took off."

The Trotters' main goal is to enjoy farming. They plan to increase their milking area up to 100 ha while the remainder of the new block, which is too far from the shed, will be used as a runoff. Maize silage will continue to be part of their re-grassing programme and, some time down the track, Keith would also like to put in a feed pad to reduce maize silage losses and further increase profit.

"There are always things to spend money on! When we looked at maize silage, a big benefit was that we could introduce it into our system without a large capital investment."