Protection of soils through removing cows from winter crops. Peter Steeghs aims to protect wet soils and reduce reliance on winter crops by using loose housed deep-litter barns.
- Using off-paddock facilities in autumn protects pastures and fits the farm system by lengthening rotation rounds.
- Taking cows off paddock using a fixed date makes for a simple farm system compared to deciding whether or not to take cows off paddock when paddocks are wet.
- Getting stocking density correct and proactively managing bedding material in off-paddock facilities is critical to reduce any animal health problems and extend the bedding life.
- Plans for managing facility effluent from the beginning will minimise retrospective costs and maximise nutrient use.
The Steeghs family moved to Southland from the Waikato in 1995. They now own two farms, the home property peak milks 1000 cows through two sheds and the other (Charlton Farm) peak milks 410 cows. They also operate 2 support blocks.
Previously cows were wintered on winter fodder crops, now all cows are wintered in loose-housed facilities with deep litter and self-fed silage, or facilities where silage is fed along the outside of the facility. Ninety percent of supplement fed in the facilities comes from support blocks.
“We had the ability to make the silage but didn’t have the ability to feed it,” Peter Steeghs
Across two properties, the Steeghs have two loose housed deep-litter facilities built over several years, the last completed in 2016. The first facilities incorporated self-feed silage, while the recently built facilities use feeding alleys.
The Steegh’s preference is towards the loose-housed facilities with feeding alleys as different supplements can be fed and the loose-housed barns can be used during the milking season if required.
They also noted that having a mix of feeding options can be good as the ability to self feed silage minimises machinery use over winter.
Key reasons for moving to off paddock wintering
- Maintain control of the wintering
- Reduce feed wastage
- Certainty of putting weight on cows - no matter how harsh the winter
- Minimise transport costs
The facilities are used in winter for all cows for 24 hours/day and in the late autumn and spring to protect pastures during wet periods.
The Steeghs previously budgeted on farm working expenses of $4/kg MS. This year they aim to achieve $3.50/kg MS through tighter cost control. Achieving this will depend on no unexpected expenditure such as machinery breakdown.
Planning a loose housed deep-litter barn
- Have built a barn close to the farm dairy to give flexibility with feeding milking cows - they are able to feed a variety of feeds in the barn or feed cows on pasture
- Allow plenty of room per cow
- Use shelter if available
- Budget for site works - such as a concrete and effluent system and any possibly required extra gear such as a muck scraper
- Recommend getting professional advice on designing the effluent system, “Need to be on your game with effluent.”
- Store silage close to the shed to reduce transport and wear and tear on machinery
- Have a guaranteed feed source
Operating a loose housed deep-litter barn
The Steeghs want to make the most of their barn by using it throughout key times of the season.
Late autumn: At night once soil conditions start getting wet to prevent pugging - this lengthens the late autumn round.
Winter: Cows housed 24 hours/day from 1 June to 20 August.
Spring: Springers and colostrum cows in barn when wet to protect.
Managing the bedding material
Bedding material condition is critical to maximise flexibility, especially with springers and lactating cows, the Steeghs:
- Use really dry bedding material
- Put in a deep layer of bedding material in the first year then scrape off or top up over subsequent years
- Allow at least 8m²/cow as stock density is important
- Half way through winter, scrape the bedding to remove built-up surface muck
- At calving, scrape off the top and add a bit of straw for cleanliness. If bedding material is too mucky, the colostrums will get mastitis.
Silage is weighed with a 10kg DM/cow winter allowance. As a general rule of thumb, cows should still have silage remaining at 3pm.
Good quality silage is critical and harvested slightly earlier to optimise quality, the Steeghs are, “prepared to sacrifice quantity to get quality.” They aim for well-wilted drier silage to minimise wastage which is easier to manage within the facility’s system.
Evolving in the system
Managing bedding material
- Bedding material costs $50/cow/year - a significant cost
- The Steeghs will undertake soil testing on the paddocks and to ensure maximum nutrient value, bedding material cleaned out of the facility is applied to the paddocks most in need of nutrients; this is likely to reduce the amount spent on fertiliser.
By fine-tuning their system to maximise the facility’s potential, it is likely the Steeghs will focus on increasing per cow production with fewer and maybe larger cows. They will aim to keep feed inputs the same and “do better with what we have got”.