Graeme Stuart (left) with Pioneer Area Manager Mark Burke.
Maize silage is an integral part of a very productive farming system for Wairarapa farmer Graeme Stuart.Graeme and children Joanne (23) and Jamie (14) milk 600 cows on 137 ha (eff.) at Rangitumau, 6 km north of Masterton.
By increasing stocking rate as well as per cow production, Graeme has lifted overall production by 6-8% each season since 1982. In the 2007/08 season, the Friesian and Friesian-cross herd produced 224,000 kgMS (1,635 kgMS/ha and 373 kgMS/cow). This year, the farm will produce around 243,000 kgMS.
The farm comprises equal amounts of Manawatu stony silt and Kopuaranga heavy silt. The stony silt dries out very quickly in the summer while the heavy silt is prone to pugging during the winter. About 95% of the farm area is irrigated using water from a shallow well and a river. Graeme is slowly changing from big guns to a pivot irrigation system that is more water and energy efficient.
"By irrigating we can grow 12 -14 tDM of pasture each year," says Graeme. "That’s not high compared with some dairy districts but it is great for the Wairarapa."
Last season’s extreme dry conditions meant the farm could not draw water from the river for three months.
"Most of us were running too lean on our supplement reserves," says Graeme. "The drought meant we had to buy in large amounts of feed."
The herd’s high production is also supported by a substantial input of supplementary feeds including maize silage, pasture silage, triticale silage, hay, barley straw, palm kernel, barley, maize grain and molasses.
Forages are fed through a mixer wagon on a concrete feed pad that doubles as a stand-off area while concentrates are fed in the bale through a sophisticated Protrac system.
As well as providing information on milk yields and somatic cell counts at the last herd test, the Protrac system allows Graeme to allocate concentrate feeding levels to individual groups of cows which are identified electronically.
The farm is largely self sufficient with the bulk of the supplements being grown on lease land or the farm’s 40 ha cropping run-off. Last year, Graeme planted 13 ha of Pioneer® brand 38H20 and this year he has planted 27 ha of Pioneer® brand 38H20 and 39G12.
Currently, maize silage is grown as part of a two-year crop rotation. The first year maize is planted in mid-October and harvested in late April. After harvest the land is direct drilled with annual ryegrass for winter and spring grazing. In the second spring, Graeme plants a barley crop which provides grain and straw for the herd.
The bulk of the maize silage is fed to the autumn calving herd over the winter and early spring with the balance being fed to the spring calvers at the start of their lactation. "Over the winter we don’t have any problems growing pasture that has a surplus of protein," says Graeme.
"It makes sense to supplement the herd with high energy, high carbohydrate maize silage."
So what is the focus for the future?
"We would like to head down the path of other high producers targeting 2,500 – 3,000 kgMS/ha," says Graeme. "At the same time, we are closely watching the payout and reducing the costs of supplements by growing as much as we can ourselves."
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