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Maize silage secures small farm's future

Jennifer and Chris Turner.

Maize silage secures small farm's future

2003/04 Season

Owners: Ross and Carol Turner, and Chris and Jennifer Turner
Farm location: Kihikihi
Farm size: 47 hectares
Herd size: 188 cows

With the ever increasing capital cost of dairy land and pressure to expand, an increasing number of dairy farmers are re-evaluating the 'bigger is better' scenario.

As pressure grows to get increased returns off an increasingly high capital outlay, more farmers are looking at how to intensify their existing operations, rather than sink more money into more land. For Kihikihi farmers Ross and Carol Turner, maize silage has provided a means to keep a small farm in the family, and keep it viable for two families. Along with son Chris and daughter-in-law Jennifer, the Turners own the 47 effective hectare Karaka Jersey stud.

The property has been in the family for 50 years and the Turners are adamant they would like to keep it that way.

Feeding maize silage has enabled them to push the farm's stocking rate up to four cows a hectare, milking 188 head and returning 350 kilograms of milksolids per cow.

"We see maize silage as the only way to keep this property an economically viable unit for two families," says Ross.

Each autumn the Turners purchase around 100 tonnes of maize silage drymatter and feed it until the end of lactation, carrying the stack over as a post Christmas supplement.

"The beauty of maize silage," says Ross, "is the way cows will hold their condition in summer and autumn. The benefits extend beyond cow condition too. Higher grazing residuals can be maintained, putting less pressure on the pasture sward, keeping grass at the optimum for regrowth of around 1,600 kilograms of drymatter a hectare post grazing."

"Our cows get a more balanced diet and we achieve more days in milk, even with this higher stocking rate." The maize silage is usually fed in conjunction with good quality pasture silage bought in from off the farm.

Maize is an obvious choice as a supplement for the Turners. They farm in an area well suited to maize cropping, providing certainty of supply at competitive rates. Capital outlay has been kept to a minimum in establishing maize in the feed regime. The Turner's feeding system is low cost, and effective. They have bins situated on the shed exit race where effluent is contained and spread across the farm. It only takes around an hour to feed the maize silage.

The Turners regard the maize as the best value supplement over autumn or summer, particularly if conditions are dry and unsuitable for nitrogen application.

"Grass pushed with nitrogen, or turnips, seem to lead to a drop in cow condition while meal and molasses are too expensive except to fill short feed gaps," says Ross. Alternatives like brewers grain and palm kernel are often hard to source consistently.