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More home-grown feed delivers more production

More home-grown feed delivers more production

2010/11 Season

Owners: Kevin & Michele Alexander
Farm location: Hukerenui, Northland

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Kevin and Michele Alexander milk 340 Friesian cows on 148 hectares (eff) at Hukerenui in Northland. All cows are wintered on farm with calves and yearlings off-farm. Production in the 2010-11 season was 163,000 kgMS.

The 2011-12 season's target is around 169,000 kgMS (497 kgMS/cow and 1,141 kgMS/ha).

The farm, like many others in the area, is winter wet and historically this has affected pasture cover levels and cow condition score. The Alexanders started growing and feeding maize silage more than 10 years ago and this year they have grown 15 ha, of which 13 ha is on farm. The main crop is Pioneer® brand 33M54, selected for its high total drymatter yield potential. There is also a paddock of Pioneer® brand 37Y12 which will be harvested early.

"Feeding maize silage in the autumn allows us to achieve our target of condition score 5.5 at calving", says Kevin. "At the same time we can extend lactation, put more milk in the vat and increase pasture cover levels."

Maize is grown as part of the farm's pasture renewal programme. Paddocks are identified 12 months ahead of planting and they evenly spread effluent and shavings from the stand-off pads, on top of grazed pasture from November onwards. Paddocks are soil tested and sprayed out in September of the following year and liquid effluent and any necessary solid fertiliser is applied.

Soil testing and nutrient budgeting are essential steps in the effluent management and maize growing programmes.

"The value of the nutrients in our effluent is equivalent to the cost of a new car every two years", says Kevin. "Growing maize is a great way of getting the value out of cow manure and we use it to soak up excess soil nutrients."

"To maximise energy yield per hectare we choose high-yielding hybrids and plant them at optimum populations", says Kevin. "We also work closely with a number of support people including Pioneer Area Manager Craig Booth, our seed merchant and the local contractor to ensure the job is done right and on time, so we achieve our maize silage yield target of 25 tDM/ha."

In a typical season, maize silage is fed in concrete bins on a pad from early autumn, through the winter and into spring. Cows start calving on 10 July and maize silage is used to help drive the herd to a high spring peak.

"Maize silage allows us to calve earlier so we can extract as much milk from the cows as we can before pasture quality starts to drop in late October", says Kevin. "It is a great product allowing us to feed our cows well while manipulating pasture cover levels to maximise yield and quality."

Pasture surpluses are identified early and conserved as silage. When the maize silage stack is finished, normally after mating, pasture silage and some palm kernel are used to drive summer milk production.

Reducing cow numbers has enabled the Alexanders to drive per cow and per hectare productivity through better feeding and constantly improving cow efficiency and health traits. They continue to be focused on maximising the amount of pasture grown and eaten as well as increasing maize silage yield and quality.

Kevin describes their current system as perhaps "a 1980s-style stocking rate with higher performance per cow and per hectare." So where to from here?

"The future holds more of the same with an on-going emphasis on ensuring we achieve a better margin", says Kevin. "We constantly assess all technologies, both old and new and try to keep our system flexible. Finally, above all we are working to manage our environmental footprint in all we do."