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Maize silage yields more milk

Dean Lithgow on his Westmere farm, Wanganui.

Maize silage yields more milk

2004/05 Season

Owners: Dean and Andrea Lithgow
Farm location: Westmere
Farm size: 100 hectares
Herd size: 420 cows

A desire to feed cows properly all year round regardless of climatic conditions and pasture growth rates has motivated Wanganui farmers Dean and Andrea Lithgow to build a farm system that incorporates significant inputs of maize silage. Along with their two pre-schoolers Casey (4) and Stafford (1), Dean and Andrea part-own and manage a family trust farm on the rolling hills of Westmere, north of Wanganui.

The 100 hectare milking platform is part of a 410 hectare operation which also includes cropping, sheep and beef farming. It is divided by two large gullies which run through the middle of the farm. Cows in the split-calving Friesian herd can walk a round trip of up to 4 kilometres at each milking. Dean initially fed out supplements in the paddock, but due to the time taken and the amount of pugging, he opted to build a 400-cow feed pad in year 2000.

The feed pad is a valuable addition to the farm allowing the cows to be fully fed while avoiding unnecessary pasture damage over the winter months. Maize silage feeding rate varies from two to seven kilograms of drymatter per cow per day depending on the grass supply and quality and also the balance of protein and fibre in the cows' diet.

Dean believes in fully feeding his cows and maize silage has allowed him to come closer to achieving his objective. "I would like to feed maize silage every day of the year," he says, "but I just keep on running out". The maize silage is either grown on-farm, on the run-off block or soured from local growers. This season growing 5 hectares of short maturity Pioneer® brand 38G43 on the milking platform will allow early establishment of new pasture while 16 hectares of the longer maturity Pioneer® brand 36H36 grown on the run-off home farm will give top end yields of higher grain content maize silage reducing the average cost of feed. Most seasons the crops average more than 22 tonnes of drymatter per hectare making maize silage a "very cost effective feed."

During the last six seasons milk production increases have followed maize silage usage. "Maize silage has increased from around 500 kilograms of drymatter per cow in the 2000-01 season up to the current level of 1.4 tonnes of drymatter maize silage per cow and we are looking to use at least 2 tonnes of drymatter per cow in the future," says Dean. During this time milk production has lifted from 105,000 kilograms of milksolids (1,050 kgMS/ha) in 1999-2000 to 165,000 kilograms of milksolids (1,650 kgMS/ha) in the 2003-04 season.

Cow performance to date for the 2004-05 season demonstrates the reliability of the Lithgow's farming system. "Despite decreased pasture growth rates due to the harsh winter followed by a long cool spring, production to the 1st April is currently 16% ahead of last year."