Gareth Parkes is a man of few words – so he lets his farm results do the talking. Milking 330 cows on a 100 hectare (ha) milking platform at Linkwater in the Marlborough Sounds, Gareth’s comprehensive feeding system ensures his cows are performing to the best of their ability – an outstanding 500 kilograms of milksolids (kgMS) per cow.
In addition to grain, palm kernel and maize silage, lucerne is a key component of Gareth’s herd’s diet. It’s critical to maintaining the protein levels in the cows’ diet and, therefore, their milk production.In September 2013, Gareth planted 7.5ha of lucerne on his runoff, and it’s still going strong. The crop is not irrigated, instead relying on precipitation, and yields around 25 tonnes
(t) of dry matter per ha (DM/ha).
“The crop is cut and baled approximately five times per season – every 42-48 days – with the first cut coming off in October/November,” he says.
Gareth says while they didn’t feed any lucerne this spring due to a protein spike in the pasture, they slowly started introducing it back into the system in December. “Just one or two bales a day, to keep the protein steady and maintain production,” he says.
The lucerne will continue its function as a protein source right through to autumn when fed alongside maize silage.
Gareth believes lucerne is probably an underestimated crop, saying its longevity a major advantage. However, careful monitoring of the plant is critical to its success.
“We soil test regularly and try to maintain a pH of 6.5, which seems to ensure the longevity of the crop,” Gareth says.
“It also has to be planted in the right paddock; it likes free-draining soil, rather than the heavy clay soils that many dairy farms are sitting on.”
Gareth also recommends lucerne remains a ‘cut and carry’ crop.
“When you let cows graze lucerne in the paddock, they trample the crop and ruin it,” he says. “I always say lucerne is a cut and carry tool. You can’t graze it; at least not in our system.”
Gareth works with Nelson-based Rai Valley Farm Source representative Kristin Aldridge to ensure his lucerne crop – variety 55Q27 from Pioneer – continues to perform.
As a farmer who is happy to challenge the status quo, Gareth appreciates Kristin’s comprehensive cropping knowledge and support during the season.
“In my secondary role as a stock truck driver, I’m on the road a lot. I see a lot of farms, talk to a lot of different people, and I like to try new things,” he says.
“Kristin is very knowledgeable. If she doesn’t know the answer to something, it’s only a matter of minutes before she finds out.”
Article supplied by Pioneer.