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Maize silage - the key to good spring production for a large farm

Andrew Watt (left) with Pioneer®Area Manager Grant Matthews.

Maize silage - the key to good spring production for a large farm

2007/08 Season

Owners: Andrew and Nicky Watt
Farm location: Tinwald
Farm size: 730 ha
Herd size: 2,650 cows

Andrew and Nicky Watt and their children Michaela (9), James (7), Aidan (4) and Ryan (18 months) are equity managers of Cloverdale, a 730 ha property located near Tinwald, south of Ashburton.

In the 2006/07 season, they peak milked 2,760 Friesian-Jersey cows through two 80-bale rotary sheds and produced a massive 1,091,153 kgMS (1,495 kgMS/ha and 395 kgMS/cow). This was quite an achievement given that the whole farm was under two feet of snow for more than a fortnight in June and the entire herd was maintained on 100% supplementary feed during this time.

This season, the Watts peak milked 2,650 cows and are on target to produce 1,135,000 kgMS.

"The key challenge on a farm this size is the management of staff," says Andrew. "In the spring we have up to 18 staff and they are the key to the whole operation running smoothly. As long as you have good staff and a good system, you have a good farming operation."

In the 2006/07 season, the farm fed 1,100 tDM of maize silage, which included 440 tDM that was grown on the run-off. The farm started the 2007/08 season with 1,350 tDM of maize silage on hand. This year they have contracted 90 ha of a mix of Pioneer® brand maize hybrids from local contract growers located within a 20 km radius of the farm. Their maize silage will cost 24 c/kgDM inoculated and stacked on farm. "We can get maize silage on farm for less than we can buy pasture silage and, as long as the maize silage is harvested at the right time, it is higher in energy," says Andrew.

The 2006/07 season was challenging with the snow, and sorting out springers from the mobs on the run-off and contract grazing was a lot of work. This spring, cows were sorted into mobs based on calving date. Around 300 cows were wintered at home and the remainder at either the run-off or contract grazing. Each mob was walked home and was started on a diet consisting of maize silage, palm kernel extract, cereal silage and straw around three weeks prior to calving.

"We lack starch in the diet and maize silage is the key to good production in the spring," says Nicky. It is a good palatable feed, easy to feed-out and we get excellent utilisation in the paddock. The cows tend to hold condition better in the spring when they are being fed maize silage."

Calving starts 1 August. This season the herd was fed maize silage right through until 20 September when it ran out and the grass started growing. The new crops will be harvested in late March to early April and the cows will be fed 5-6 kgDM/cow/day until drying off at the end of May. "Maize silage is really good for extending lactation into the autumn while at the same time building cow condition and pasture cover levels," says Nicky.

In the future, the Watts and their business partners are aiming to increase production up towards 2,000 kgMS/ha while at the same time maintaining profitability by keeping costs down. The key to their success will be maximising cow numbers per labour unit while still looking after their staff, growing more grass and using supplements, including maize silage, as efficiently as they can.