The Wilsons aim to make all supplements on the milking platform, support block and farm, and avoid nutrient loss when grazing winter crops.
- Farm staff can better manage the difficulty in matching pasture supply to cow demand and maintain pasture quality by undertaking regular farm walks to assess pasture condition.
- With the removal of summer turnips, supply is not being met over summer, therefore the Wilsons are planting chicory in all paddocks.
- The Wilsons see paddock wintering as key to their system due to recognising the need to keep fine tuning winter crop rotations.
- The timing of crop planting is critical. At present, the Wilsons aim to have all crops in by 15 October, this ensures contractor availability before other farmers are ready to plant crops.
- Free-draining soils allow the Wilsons to work the ground early. They found fodder beet can tolerate being planted early but may need two sprays for weeds.
Eight years ago, Aaron and Shannon Wilson converted part of their property to dairying.
Their extensive property ranges from flat to rolling to hilly. It has been owned by Aaron’s family since 1972.
The Wilsons aim to operate a self-contained low-intensity farming operation in order to manage weather and payout volatility; and environmental risk.
In the last two seasons, the Wilsons have reduced cow numbers, not purchased bought-in supplement, and continued with their policy of wintering stock off farm.
The Wilsons’ cashflow predicts farm working expenses of $3.50/kg MS. The most recent nutrient budget estimated an N loss of 17kg N/ha/yr, down from 22 to 27kg N/ha/yr in the past.
They farm in a region that experiences dry summers and cold winters.
The home farm is in the Waimea catchment where, for many years, ground water testing has shown elevated nitrate levels. The support block is outside of the Waimea catchment.
The Wilsons operate a low intensity farming operation and need cost-effective wintering in order to continue their low intensity policy, ‘Low cost wintering keeps us in business in a less intensive system. If wintering costs increase, we will have to intensify.'
The home farm is utilised for lactating cows, grazing young stock and beef cattle. The support block is used for dairy cow and young stock wintering.
The decision not to winter cows at home for the following reasons:
- The soils get very wet and easily pug in winter
- The sloping nature of the property is likely to cause overland flow of contaminants (phosphorus (P), sediment and faecal matter) through critical source areas
- The Wilsons wanted to winter stock outside of the Waimea catchment to reduce nutrient loads within a sensitive catchment.
Successful wintering, to optimise production and reproduction and keep costs down, is critical to the success of the business.
Feed demand and supply in a low input system
The Wilsons aim to be, when possible, fully self-contained. This has meant making all supplement on farm (pit silage, and baleage) on the milking platform for feeding out over winter. Aaron notes this is “hard to manage”.
Matching feed demand and supply, and grass quality needs to be managed through:
- Regular farm walks by farm staff with Aaron overseeing
- Grazing management and occasional mowing to achieve residuals
- Identifying surpluses on the milking platform and making pit silage and balage
- To reduce the summer turnip area, chicory is currently added to all new pastures and sugar beet used as part of the regrassing program to provide a reliable late autumn feed supply and transition cows onto their winter diet
- Making baleage and hay on the support block when feeding over winter.
The Wilsons grow 18ha of sugar beet on the milking platform which is lifted and fed to the cows in the paddock as a supplement in the autumn to transition cows before going to fodder beet on the support block. At drying off, the cows are eating 5 to 6kg DM/cow.
The sugar beet crop is also replacing summer turnips as part of the home property regrassing programme.
To avoid pasture damage and nutrient loss from the farm into critical source areas, all cows are wintered on the support block.
The support block is 75ha (42ha cropped with the balance in pasture). The Wilsons moved from kale to fodder beet on the support block to reduce the amount of crop area needed enabling them to include areas of pasture and cereals in the winter diet.
Because the support block is intensively cropped, Aaron has developed a crop rotation plan to increase sustainability:
Year 0 - Pasture
Year 1 - Fodder beet
Year 2 - Split paddock (half fodder beet and half cereal crop)
Year 3 - Alternate the split paddock
Year 4 - Pasture
The majority of the supplement is made on the support block with 800 bales of hay coming from the milking platform.
When feeding out in the split fodder beet and cereal paddocks, the cows get a mix in their daily diet topped up with baleage and hay. In the pure fodder beet paddock, the cows are fed baleage and hay. The aim is for a diet of 14kg DM in total (11kg DM in fodder beet).
The Wilsons aim to make their wintering self-contained in one block (including making supplements).
The Wilsons have considered all-grass wintering but not wanted to pursue this option due to summer dry - feed supply is not guaranteed for winter. They would need to use machinery for feeding out silage in the winter (not feasible between the two properties and puts staff under too much pressure).
Minimising risk in an area with volatile weather patterns is key to their decision making.