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Maize silage maximising cow condition and production

David and Janine Swansson with their daughter Anna.

Maize silage maximising cow condition and production

2007/08 Season

Owners: David and Janine Swansson
Farm location: Pahiatua
Farm size: 86 ha (eff.)
Herd size: 230 cows

A feed pad has been a fantastic investment for Wairarapa farmers David and Janine Swansson. The Swanssons, along with children Sara (7), Jordan (5) and Anna (1) milk 230 crossbred cows on 86 ha (eff.) near Pahiatua. Farm contour varies from flat to rolling, annual rainfall is around 2 metres and the winters can be very cold.

Production for the 2006/07 season was 80,100 kgMS (931 kgMS/ha and 348 kgMS/cow) and the farm generated an EFS of $1,613/ha. "Last season was very difficult because it was so wet," says David. "There was a lot of pasture damage and it was a real challenge to get feed into the herd. As a consequence we struggled to keep condition on the cows."

A concrete feed pad with fixed feed bins was built on the farm just prior to the end of the season. It has the capacity to feed 280 cows at a time and room to stand-off 330 cows. Maize silage is stored in stacks on a metal pad within 60 metres of the feed pad. Last year, the Swanssons inoculated their maize silage with Pioneer® brand 1132 but this season they are planning to use Pioneer® brand 11C33, which will reduce heating at the stack face and allow them to fill the feed-out wagon the night before without losing feed quality.

"Last season we bought in 100 tDM of maize silage and fed 30 tDM in late lactation to build cow condition," says David. "Cows were all wintered on farm and we fed grass silage and hay on the feed pad to avoid pasture damage when it was wet."

Maize silage was fed at 2 kgDM/cow/day for two weeks prior to the start of calving (8 August) and kept in the ration until it ran out in the second week of November. The cows were on all-grass for three weeks but, because it didn't rain for almost six weeks, pasture growth rates slowed and grass silage had to be introduced to the diet in early December.

This year, the Swanssons have increased their maize silage order to 150 tDM of Pioneer® brand 38H20 and are planning to use it to help them increase lactation length. Cows were producing 1.5 kgMS/cow/day at the end of March and the farm is on track to produce 97,000 kgMS for the season.

"We firmly believe that the cows are milking well now because we got the condition score right at calving and we didn't lose it over the spring," says David. "Feeding maize silage on the feed pad helped us to achieve this."

The feed pad has also delivered other advantages for the Swanssons. "We have reduced pasture damage and decreased the level of lameness in the herd. It was a lot safer and quicker to feed-out maize silage on the feed pad than using a feed-out wagon on rolling paddocks that were wet and slippery. In addition, recent pregnancy scan results have revealed an empty rate of 7%, which is much lower than the previous season."

Sorting out cows and calves was also quicker. "We picked up the new calves and put them into a covered trailer. Once the calves were out of sight, the cows forgot about them and raced back to the feed pad to get their maize silage. It was a whole lot easier than chasing cows and calves around the paddock."

So what are the Swanssons' targets for the future?

"We enjoy what we are doing and it provides a good income and lifestyle for our family," says David. "In the future, we want to develop a sustainable system that will deliver 1 kgMS per kilogram of liveweight."