Better feed makes all the difference

SUE O'DOWD
Last updated 08:38 20/02/2014
 A stalk from Martin and Christine Powell's  maize crop at Hawera was on display on their farm during a field day.
SUE O'DOWD/Fairfax NZ

TALL STALK: A stalk from Martin and Christine Powell's maize crop at Hawera was on display on their farm during a field day. From left, are dairy farmers Bede Kissick and Philip Nixon, Foundation for Arable Research scientist Mike Parker, Farmlands Hawera manager Ian Robinson, Martin Powell, and son and Pioneer Seeds regional manager Andrew Powell.

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Milk production can be increased when crops are grown on the dairy platform, as a farm on Hawera's outskirts is illustrating.

Martin Powell and wife Christine are 50/50 sharemilkers milking 280 friesian and cross- bred cows on the Powell family's 88ha (effective) dairy farm.

It is one of four farms in a three- year cropping trial by the Waimate West Demonstration Farm.

In its second season, the trial is testing the viability of growing crops on the dairy platform to increase milk production. It also includes Steve and Maria Poole's Kapuni farm and Bede and Shirley Kissick's Riverlea farm.

The Powells have been sharemilkers on the farm for almost 20 years. After deciding 12 years ago to grow production by feeding their herd better, they have almost doubled milksolids (MS) per hectare from 900kg to this season's target of 1750kg MS.

The Powell farm, venue for the first session of a field day last week, has a stocking rate of 3.2 cows/hectare. The farming operation also includes a 14ha run- off at Te Roti.

Calving begins on July 10 and the couple milk until May 31 each year.

Last season they produced 138,272kg milksolids (MS), at 494kg MS per cow and are on target for 154,000kg MS this year. Last season's per hectare production was 1571kg MS, well above the New Zealand benchmark for system 4/5 farms of 1399kg but nearly 200kg less than this season's likely figure. Daily per cow production at the moment is 2.1kg MS.

The proportion of the farm in crop this season has risen to 20 per cent from 14 per cent last season.

DairyNZ consulting officer Michelle Taylor said the four farms in the trial had varying areas planted in crops.

She presented Dairybase figures which showed the Powells' operating expenses per hectare last season were $4170 against the benchmarks of $3792 for all sharemilking systems and $3441 for 4/5 sharemilker systems. Only 29 4/5 system farms operated by sharemilkers were on Dairybase.

The Powells' operating profit per hectare was $2069, more than three times the benchmark of $649 for all sharemilker systems and more than a third higher than the figure of $1385 for system 4/5 sharemilkers.

The Powells would have faced high costs for imported feed during last season's drought if they hadn't planted part of the farm in crops, she said.

Gross farm revenue last season was $6140 per hectare, compared with the benchmark of $4441 for all New Zealand 50/50 sharemilking systems and $4826 for all NZ 50/50 sharemilker systems.

Taylor said the Powells' higher operating expenses were absorbed by their higher gross farm revenue which was partly driven by the premium prices they achieved for their well-grown stock at sales and for their cull cows.

Dairybase was available to all dairy farmers and allowed them to track their performance against others, as well as their own year- on-year performance.

Powell said benchmarking the farm performance against others was valuable, but it would be better if more farms were registered on Dairybase.

In spring he fed maize silage because the grass was high in protein and cows needed carbohydrates for energy. Protein levels were low in summer, so every day he break-fed chicory, which provided more grazings than turnips. When the cows weren't on the chicory crop, milk in the vat fell 5 per cent.

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"Chicory drives production, but the challenge is not to strip body condition off the cows," he said. At mating, the herd's condition score was 5.1 and it was now at 4.7.

In autumn, when protein levels in grass were also high, he fed maize to extend lactation and put weight on the cows before winter. His cows each ate 1.7 tonnes of maize a year.

Last year he also grew more than 14 tonnes of kale as a winter feed.

At the moment the herd was eating 10kg of supplement a day "and all the grass we grow".

"At times the cows can eat a hectare of maize in a week."

Pioneer Seeds regional manager and Martin and Christine Powell's son, Andrew, said the family had grown maize for a number of years, planting it early in October. "Some years it has been a challenge, but if we plant early we get a higher-grade yield."

This season two different hybrids were grown. A late- maturing variety was established in a sheltered paddock where kale had been grown and where nitrogen levels were high. "Shelter adds heat and helps the plant mature quickly."

The family also pushed the plant population to 133,000 plants/ha. In Taranaki most farmers planted maize at 110,000-115,000 plants/ha and harvested at 33-36 per cent dry matter. "We push the dry matter level higher than most."

The Powell crop was harvested at 38-40 per cent maturity and some plants had double cobs, indicating the paddock's nutrients would have allowed even more plants. Maize silage last season was of good quality, with a metabolisable energy of 11.7.

Last season was the best in years for growing maize in Taranaki, but the chicory yield was not as good. "The extra sunlight drove the maize yield," he said.

PGG Wrightson Seeds agronomist Latham Gibbins said paddocks for chicory crops should be identified at least six months before sowing. After a soil test, lime should be applied as necessary to get the pH to between 5.8 and 6.2.

Whether the paddock was direct-drilled or fully cultivated, it should be sprayed out for weeds and insects. Direct drilling posed more risks from insects and slugs. Fertiliser should be applied at planting.

With full cultivation, the paddock should be ploughed, harrowed, rolled, planted, fertilised and rolled again. The seedbed needed to be friable and firm to the point that a heel mark left only a slight indentation.

Chicory should have six to seven leaves before the first grazing, after which nitrogen should be applied to keep the crop vegetative. It could be grazed on a rotation from December until May. Nitrogen should be applied after grazing.

The number of plants left in May determined whether to keep the crop for a second year because it required different management, was not as vegetative and tended to go to seedhead, he said.

- Taranaki Daily News

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