Cow numbers: 500 cows
Location: Winton, Southland
Milking platform: 164ha
Support block: 90ha
Stocking rate: 3.05 cows/ha
Soil type: Clay
Annual rainfall: 880-900mm
New wintering system: Crop for 500 dry cows
Previous wintering system: Pasture (Waikato)
Wintering on crop experienced after change of farm
Jorgelina and Andres Patino have been dairy farming for 15 years. They took a contract milking opportunity in 2011 in Southland where they winter 500 cows on crop (fodder beet, swedes and kale) on the owners support block.
Originally from Argentina, they arrived in New Zealand in 2003 to farm in the Waikato where they operated a pasture based wintering system on the milking platform.
The 2012 season was their second on the Southland farm, but their first season using fodder beet.
Crop wintering is not so appealing to the Patino's, and they note it can be hard on staff. They think it is worth considering alternatives, but believe it is financially worthwhile.
The shift to Southland and to a different wintering system has been a big learning curve for the Patino's. They have been supported by their boss, research and publications, DairyNZ consulting officers and the DairyNZ crop calculator.
Crop wintering system
- Fodder beet
Overall the farm is a system 5, high input system.
The Patino's split the cows into three mobs according to BCS - fat, medium and skinny, and heifers. The fattest mob were fed about 14 kgDM/cow/day, the medium mob were fed around 15 kgDM/cow/day and skinny mob were fed around 16 kgDM/cow/day or more. Each mob was fed 70% crop (with the exception of fodder beet), 25% baleage and 5% hay.
Fodder beet was not fed at more than 60-65% of the cows’ diet. A 10-day transition period was used when the cows were going on to the fodder beet crop and during this time the crop proportion of the diet was no more than 50%.
Benefits of wintering on crop
- Full control of system
- All cows are in one place on the support block
“The wintering on crop system was in place before we came to the farm. We would consider other alternatives if we owned the farm.”
“Crop is cheaper for a contract milker – it’s expensive to send to a barn or wintering pad.”
What do you need to be watchful for when wintering on crop?
- Transitioning of cows on to crop – this has to be done very carefully to avoid acidosis. The Patino's had to remove some cows due to acidosis.
- They found the main pitfall of the system was the disappointing fodder beet production per hectare in their first year of growing the crop. When yield is not high, it is an expensive crop.
- Found crop wintering messier than pasture and lost the odd boot in the mud.
- Wintering on crop creates more stress on staff with more mud, more cows in a small area and an increased risk of metabolic disorders.
- Travelling to and from the support blocks to shift and check cows can be more stressful and time consuming on staff, so it is not very restful before calving starts.
The Patino's advice for managing the crop system
- After cows developed metabolic problems in the first couple of days, cows were taken off the crop. Cows need to be transitioned slowly onto crop (especially fodder beet) and closely monitored.
- Dealing with the mud – keeping troughs close to the wire and back fencing paddocks helped to reduce the mud.
- Fodder beet cropping needs to be done well to produce enough yield.
- Close monitoring is required. Shift the cows twice a day and check the power and the fence. If cows are on fodder beet and break through the fence they have a higher chance of getting metabolic disorders.
- Use the fodder beet crop earlier on in the winter season (June), because the area per cow is so little that they make a lot of mess.
What monitoring systems were put in place?
- Cows closely monitored close to calving as they don’t show when they’re going to calve on crop. When close to calving, cows were transitioned off crop and onto grass, however there was only sufficient grass for five to seven days before calving, so many cows calved on crop.
- Cows closely monitored when transitioning on and off crop.
- Soil samples taken to get fertiliser right.
How they ensure continuity of feed supply
- Use the feed allocation calculator
- Make a feed budget and plan so you are confident that there is enough feed.