Thursday, August 22, 2019

Early maize optimises milk and farm workload

May 1, 2019 by  
Filed under Livestock

A Norfolk farming family has embraced ultra-early maize varieties to produce high quality milk while enhancing business management.

Tim Lewis farms with father Gerald as Lewis Partners at Shotford Hall, Harleston, Norfolk. Their 140-strong dairy herd produces 10,500 litres/cow and is part of a large mixed farming enterprise encompassing more than 800ha.

In recent years, Tim’s son Josh has joined the farm and is keen to develop the arable side. Meanwhile, Tim’s wife Nathalie is the driving force behind Marsh Larder, the family’s on-farm café and shop, run by the couple’s daughter Naomi.

With some 750ha under arable cultivation, 50ha in two-year grass leys and some 40ha of maize grown, integration of the dairy unit with the operation’s other enterprises is seen as key to overall business success.

Spread workload

Growing maize is helping to achieve this. Better soil structure, reduced workload at critical times of the year and more efficient management of other farm operations are just some of the benefits, explains Mr Lewis.

The herd operates a year-round calving system to deliver a consistent supply of milk with maize a key element of its production, explains Mr Lewis. Milk is sold to specialist local dairy producer Marybelle. Its dairy products are also sold in the farm shop.

“A high-output system needs a consistent supply of high-quality forage, which is why I have always regarded maize as a key constituent in producing high-quality milk,” says Mr Lewis.

“Maize is well suited to this area and it has been very reliable across our wide range of soils. Even during last year’s exceptionally dry conditions, the maize produced very good results and we had enough home-grown forage to see us through until harvest.”

Early maturing

The two varieties grown are Remington and Ballade. Supplied by Grainseed, they are ultra-early to mature without any significant yield penalty. They also allow an earlier harvest, from September into October, which fits in well with the overall farming system.

“This avoids any conflict with sugar beet lifting and ensures that labour is available, while earlier harvesting minimises damage to the soil structure, something we are working hard to avoid by moving towards a controlled traffic farming system.”

Grass still forms a key part of the high-energy diet. Mr Lewis grows 10ha of short-term leys specifically for silage. It is fed as part of a TMR 365 days of the year.

Grass silage is produced using Horizon Seeds’ Triumph ClampFiller – a high-yielding two-year cutting ley which includes five types of Italian and hybrid ryegrasses – with the deep-rooting varieties in the mix helping to protect against drought.

This provides a close range of D-value dates that allow precise planning of the first cut and boost water-soluble carbohydrate levels. Lucerne has also been produced for the last three years with 10ha currently grown.