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Maize win-win for dairy farm and contract grower

Maize win-win for dairy farm and contract grower

2021/22 Season

Owners: Hopkins Farming Group
Farm location: Opiki, Manawatu
Farm size: 340 ha
Herd size: 995
Pioneer® brand hybrids grown: P9400

Waihora, one of ten dairy farms owned by the Hopkins Farming Group, is managed by Shawn Southee. The property milks 995 Kiwi-cross cows on 340 ha (effective) at Opiki in the Manawatu. In the 2018/19 season they produced 404 kgMS/cow and 1,183 kgMS/ha. The farm had a return on total assets of 5.3% and a cost of production of $4.50/kgMS.

Two-thirds of the cows calve in the spring and the remainder in the autumn to fulfil a winter milk contract.

Pasture management is a key focus, and this has been the main reason for the massive production increase from 280,000 kgMS in 2006 when Shawn arrived on the farm, to 400,000 kgMS in 2018.

“Our pasture policy is simple – we utilise pasture first” says Shawn.

Pasture is measured by plate metering the paddocks and weekly farm walks. Spring calving cows are grazed off in the winter to increase pasture harvested and reduce pugging damage.

“Our stocking rate and the wetness of the farm mean it would be hard to grow enough maize silage on farm so buying it in is a better option for us” says Shawn. “Maize silage is easy to source, easy to stack and easy to feed”.

The Hopkins group contract a sizeable area of maize silage each year and local grower Kevin Claridge is a regular supplier. Kevin was dairy farming but sold his herd three years ago and switched to contract growing maize silage and running drystock.

“It was a lifestyle decision for us” says Kevin. “Growing maize requires a lot less labour input than milking cows and allowed us to avoid the increasing compliance requirements that come with dairy farming”.

Kevin loves Pioneer® brand P9400 which he has grown for the past six years – initially for his own dairy farm use and now to sell to the Hopkins Group.

“P9400 does extremely well for us” Kevin says. “It produces consistent yields of good quality silage and has proven it can handle cool spring starts and some of the more challenging growing seasons”.

Each season Waihora buys in around 300 tDM of maize silage which comes onto the farm in late March. It is fed from a few days after harvest through until September at 4-5 kgDM per cow per day.

“Our aim is to keep a stable supplementary feed ration in front of the cows, so we feed budget carefully” says Shawn. “Maize silage is mixed with palm kernel and fed through a mixer wagon onto a feed pad, with pasture silage being added as and when required depending on pasture growth rates”.

The supplementary feed mix makes up about half the cow’s diet over the winter and helps the farm meet its production target, as well as keep weight on the cows.

Springers are also fed maize silage to reduce the incidence of milk fever.

“Our cows are prone to milk fever and feeding maize silage pre-calving helps reduce the incidence” says Shawn.

People management is an important focus for the Hopkins group and staff retention along with excellent corporate farm management support aids in the success of Waihora Farm.

The farm employs 5 full-time staff and rosters are 8 days on and 2 days off. In the weekends only the most important jobs are done. In the 2018-19 season there was no turnover of staff or management and no days lost to injury.

In the future Shawn plans to focus on lifting per cow and per hectare performance.

“We are happy with the system we have, but we are always looking for ways to improve the efficiency of our business in the future”.