Cows happier if tucked up
Canvastown farmers Mark and Simone Zillwood say a $140,000 shelter for their 150 milking cows is a good investment.
This year the couple built a two-bay covered feed pad to keep their cows warm and dry, to avoid damaging wet soils and to feed supplements more efficiently.
The Zillwoods moved to Marlborough from Southland four years ago and have been busy lifting production and improving environmental standards on their 68-hectare farm near Canvastown.
The property was surrounded by forestry, so expanding was not an option, Mr Zillwood told a Rai Valley farm systems group field day on Thursday last week.
Instead they tackled the property's weak point: vulnerability to flooding which had covered front paddocks four times in four years.
The Zillwood herd produces about 380 kilograms of milk solids per head which the couple hopes to lift closer to the 450kg produced in Southland. Field day followers calculated that at $5.80/kg, an extra 17,000kg would add $98,600 to their income, offset by a bigger supplements bill.
Shifting to twice-a-day milking at the start of last season, plus good growing conditions, had already boosted production 30 per cent, Mr Zillwood said.
When the cows came home from winter grazing in July they were fed supplements in the shelter, keeping them warm and dry while wet paddocks were protected from hoof damage.
DairyNZ consulting officer Stephen Arends said looking after cows better through summer should enable the Zillwoods to milk the herd through to the end of the season without dropping poor performers.
Mr Zillwood said feeding supplements in the shelter reduced wastage from about 30 per cent in the paddock to about 5 per cent. Cows were outside for as long as it took to graze back a break of grass to 1500 to 1600kg of dry matter per hectare, for about 250 days a year.
"We just have to open the gate, give the cows a call and they walk right up to the shed," Mr Zillwood said.
During spring, in-calf "springers" stayed in the shelter for up to for 20 hours a day, gave birth there "and are very happy".
Mr Zillwood regularly turns woodchips covering the clay floor of the shelter and plans to replace about a third each year at a cost of $4000 or less if reject product unsuitable for chipboard is available. Nova-flow piping drains waste from gravel-filled troughs in each bay into a newly-built effluent pond.
Last autumn the Zillwoods planted an 18ha lease-block near Havelock in tetraploid ryegrass and removed fences, to make up to five cuts of silage a year. This milking season they expect to feed out about 150 tonnes compared with 50 tonnes last season, plus 80 tonnes of palm kernel.
Making the silage cost about 24c per kg stacked; cheaper than buying it in, Mr Zillwood said. Added costs were building a silage pit and buying a mixer wagon.
The $60,000 spent on a 2000 cubic metre effluent storage pond with a weeping wall to filter waste was non-negotiable, Mr Zillwood said.
Existing storage was small and very close to a stream so did not comply with Marlborough District Council rules.
Three months after being built, the pond was half-filled by rainfall and half by effluent, Mr Zillwood said. Once paddocks had dried out, this would be spread as fertiliser through K-Line sprinklers.
Once or twice a year he would hire a spreader to scatter dry waste from the sludge pond behind the weeping wall.
Farmer Bruce Richmond said the Zillwoods' effort to contain their effluent was wonderful but could this be a slippery slope toward dairy farmers being required to run all their cows indoors?
THE ZILLWOOD FARM
50 hectares effective plus 18ha in streams, laneways and bush.
Annual rainfall of 1800-2000 millimetres.
150 cows being bred toward friesians from jerseys.
Cows and young stock wintered off-farm.
Irrigates 25ha with K-Line sprinklers doubling as effluent disposal.
- The Marlborough Express