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Self sufficient with maize silage

From left Pioneer Area Manager Grant McDonald, contract milkers Kate Pittard and Chris Bedford and farm owners Jacque and Shane Ashley

Self sufficient with maize silage

2009/10 Season

Owners: Shane and Jacque Ashley
Farm location: Wardville

Always having a stack of maize silage on-farm allows Shane and Jacque Ashley to fully feed their cows every day of the year.

The Ashleys, along with children Mark (19), Sam (18) and Taylor (15), farm 227 ha (eff.) at Wardville, near Matamata.

In the 2008/09 season, they milked 500 cows and produced 258,500 kgMS (1,138 kgMS/ha or 517 kgMS/cow). In the 2009/10 season, they are milking 660 cows and are on track to produce 330,000 kgMS (1,454 kgMS/ha or 500 kgMS/cow).

Historically, the Ashleys supplementary feed regime was based around significant volumes of bought-in palm kernel extract and around 500 kgDM/cow of maize silage sourced both on and off the farm. However, in the 2009/10 season they will feed 1.5 tDM/cow of home-grown maize silage and very little imported feed. The catalyst for their change in supplementary feeding regime was the 2007/08 record Waikato drought.

“During the drought it was impossible to buy-in feed for our cows,” says Shane. “It opened our eyes as to how vulnerable our system was and we decided we wanted to be self sufficient.”

The first step along the road to running a self-contained dairy farm system was the purchase of an adjacent 74 ha potato block in October 2008. It was planted in Pioneer® brand 35D28 and the Ashleys sold 350 tDM and kept the remainder for their own use.

Shane believes the benefits of having a large buffer of maize silage on-hand throughout the year are significant. “We do not need to rely on bought-in supplements, we have control over our feed cost and we know that we can feed our herd maize silage whenever they need it.”

The farm runs two 330 cow herds – one Friesian and the other Jersey, plus all the heifers. Cows start calving 10 July and are dried off according to calving date once they have completed a 305 day lactation. Maize silage is fed on a 330 cow feed pad twice a day to milkers and once a day to dry cows.

Every morning during the lactation an automatic gate opener releases the Friesian herd from their paddock at 3:30am. The cows make their way to the feed pad and have finished their maize silage and are ready to be milked when the contract milkers reach the shed at 4:30am. While one person starts milking, the other releases the Jersey herd who make their own way to the feed pad.

Shane believes the time spent feeding out maize silage is balanced by significant time reductions in other areas. “We don’t spend any time on a motorbike bringing the cows to the shed and, because we feed all the minerals with the maize, we never drench or dust pastures with minerals.