Maize delivers cost control

Maize delivers cost control in high-cost fodder environment

Feed Management
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Reducing and controlling the cost of feed has been assisted at the Robertson's dairy farm with the introduction of maize production.

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It's an ancient art form, but maize continues to find a role on dairy farms in today's cost-driven industry.

The family-run operation of brothers Alex and Robert Robertson introduced maize production to their 900-cow herd to maximise production at the lowest possible cost.

The Robertsons have three properties, with the home farm at Simpson where the milkers are run.

The herd calves three times a year and runs as a 365-days-a-year operation.

Alex Robertson said it was Robert who first raised the prospect of growing maize about three years ago.

The pair are now on their third crop with 90 hectares planted this year.

The aim was to reduce the use of outside grain and fodder.

"To become more efficient and grow more feed ourselves," Alex Robertson said.

He said that every time a truck delivered to the farm it was a cost.

You had to work out how to get that truck in cheaper or less often or with a lower volume.

He said maize was another way they were trying to make the business more efficient, consistent and profitable.

The offshoot from using maize was that it helped increase test and components in the high producing herd.

He said cows seemed to get in calf better with the maize.

"It's an all-round things - cutting costs, feed cows better, getting more components in the milk and hopefully make more money," he said.

"That's the number one name of the game."

It's an all-round things - cutting costs, feed cows better, getting more components in the milk and hopefully make more money. That's the number one name of the game - Alex Robertson, Simpson

Mr Robertson said the introduction of maize had given them control of that side of the herd ration.

He said all the talk had been about the future of grain prices and the prediction that prices would "go through the roof".

Rather than relying on grain markets, maize provided an option.

"If you don't have control it's not a lot of fun," he said.

He said it was years like this that the maize gave them the opportunity to "shelter" their profit margin from that outside force.

They started three years ago with a 50 hectare crop, that produced about 500 dry tonnes, about 10 tonnes/ha.

"We didn't have a successful campaign," he said.

He said the first year was a learning experience with variety, season and irrigation.

In the second year they used their agronomist to assist.

They increased the area to 80ha and the crop yielded about 1500 dry tonne, or 18.75t/ha.

VARIETY

They also switched to using a hybrid variety Pioneer P9911.

Seed supplier Driscoll Ag director and sales agronomist, Troy Driscoll, said P9911 was suited to that part of Victoria.

The variety was a 99 day comparative relative maturity hybrid which was reasonably fast maturing.

Mr Robertson said they hoped that this year's crop of 90ha would yield around 20t/ha.

"It was so wet at Simpson that the crop went in late, so harvest will be late," he said.

"Every year you learn something and hopefully you get better at it," he said.

He said the 50 kilometre distance between Alvie and Simpson could add around $50/dry tonne for transport back to Simpson.

The bigger the yield the lower the cost per tonne.

"But if grain is $300 plus a tonne it was a worthwhile project," he said.

The cost of getting the maize silage grown and into the pit was around $180 to $200/t in the 2018/19 harvest (half from Alvie).

He said that if all the maize was grown at Simpson it was a cut and carry operation that would closer to $150 to $160 without the transport cost.

The introduction of maize had changed the feeding ration which was around 10 kilograms/cow/day made up of wheat, canola meal, minerals and lupins - fed through the dairy.

Today the ration through the dairy was down to 7kg/cow/day without the protein component.

The balance of the ration comprised maize silage, grass silage and vetch as well canola meal. The ingredients were combined in a mixing wagon and fed on a pad after each milking.

"The ultimate aim is to cut back to a maximum of 5kg in the bail to cut those costs and provide a more consistent ration all-year-round," he said.

He said there had definitely been an increase in components and the cows seemed to be "happy" and put on weight.

"They seem to be more contented and they don't seem to feel the cold," he said.

"Happy cows give more milk," he said.

Maize took out the ups and downs of production of components, he said.

Mr Robertson said paddocks for maize were different for Alvie and Simpson.

The Alvie property had a centre pivot irrigator where the maize was grown.

Initially at Simpson they chose paddocks that could be reached by the irrigation pipes, but mor recently they select the worst paddocks for maize.

He said the harvested paddocks were spayed if necessary, and irrigated with effluent before being sown to grass pastures.

Weed control was a major issue for maize production. He said they were trying to reduce the use of chemicals that were not good for the environment.

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The story Maize delivers cost control first appeared on Stock & Land.

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