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‘Simple, safe feed’ suits dairying

The simplicity of palm kernel and its safety in terms of animal health make it an attractive feed option, says Southland dairy farmer Kees Zeestraten.

Kees and Wilma Zeestraten and family, who live at Lochiel, 25km north of Invercargill, have interests in a number of Southland dairy farms. They were pioneers of dairying in northern Southland, as well as maize growing in the region.Palm kernel is used because of its simplicity, safety, and because it can be a replacement for grass silage, he says. The Zeestratens have used palm kernel for 15 months on five of their dairy units in Southland.

It is used in two ways. On two farms, palm kernel is fed via a mixer wagon, supplementing grass silage. “It brings the average ME (metabolisable energy) slightly higher at a reasonable cost.”

On the other farms, a mix of 50% palm kernel and 50% crushed barley is fed to cows through a meal feeding system on the farm dairy.

The grain is crushed and mixed with the palm kernel by Rural Feed Solutions, Winton, ready for use. The supplement is fed in spring and autumn, when the protein content in grass is high.

“These days there is more emphasis on shoulder milk and extending the lactation. It is a good quality filler feed. By mixing the grain and palm kernel together, there are no problems with grain overload and overfeeding.”

It was hard to quantify the extra production from using the supplement, but it was competitive in terms of pricing, he says. It was safe to use, with no animal health problems.

“It’s a visual thing. The cows have an extra shine and seem to carry better condition.”

Palm kernel is sourced from South-east Asia and is a by-product of the palm oil industry, left over after the oil has been squeezed out. It has a high protein content and with some remaining oil has a high energy value.

Zeestraten buys large volumes from J.Swap, the company driving the palm kernel boom in New Zealand.

While the Zeestratens are pioneers of maize growing in Southland, growing the crop since 2002, palm kernel was an easier option, he says. “Maize is more season dependent and time-consuming.

“We grew maize for three years in a row and had some good paddocks, but it’s more dependent on weather. With palm kernel you can mix it with grain in the silo and its simpler, especially when you have a number of farms.”

Maize is able to be grown in the south because of a new technique that covers the rows of maize in plastic as they are sown. By the time the plant is big enough to break through the plastic there is little risk of late frost.

The technique means planting of maize can be brought forward a month, giving enough growing time for the plants to reach full maturity.

While a handful of dairy farmers in Southland grow maize, more are taking up palm kernel. “It will take off like it has in Waikato.”

The cost of palm kernel is dearer than in the North Island, but Zeestraten is optimistic that as it becomes more widely used in the south, the price will come down. At present, the cost was equivalent to grass silage, and he would use more if the price came down to the equivalent cost of grass.

While there has been some concern that imports of palm kernel will reduce demand, and in turn arable farmer returns for feed barley grain, Zeestraten did not believe this should be the case because grain mixes well with the product.

He says New Zealand grain prices were expensive, compared with prices of $200 to $220 a tonne in Europe.

Zeestraten also has interests in dairy farms with a low-cost structure, with no supplementary feeding of palm kernel or grain. On the farms it is used, there is “controlled input” of supplements.

In last year’s wet conditions we still came out on top as we had some leeway in terms of feed control. This year, we’re feeding much less.”

Representatives of palm kernel importers J.Swap and Hunter Grain will be at the Southern Field Days answering questions and taking orders.

Palm Kernel Heads South

J.Swap has made huge investments in bulk storage capacity in strategic distribution points covering the entire North Island, and for a while now has been committing resources to South Island locations.

The huge investment in storage capacity was made to support the latest business interest for the Swap family, transporting palm kernel (PKM), wheat, soya and copra meal, in partnership with Hunter Grain. The commodity game is all about price, and he who can ship and store in the greatest quantity, usually wins the price war.

The huge growth in palm kernel used by dairy farmers has vindicated Swap’s potentially risky move into the stockfeed game, but it made sense for a company geared up to shift bulk product, especially since the palm kernel peak comes during Swap’s traditionally quiet period.

Moving into stockfeed has been relatively seamless for the Swaps, who have a long history of working with farmers. David Swap is surprisingly passionate about farming for a contractor – the family collectively owns a reasonable chunk of farmland – and spares no expense on his purebred Herefords. He runs 200 breeding cows and sells steers at about 20 months.

“I’ve always been interested in farming,” he says. “We go onto a lot of farms in our line of work, and have made some very good friends in farming. It’s part of our way of life and the stockfeed business is something I understand.”

Swap likes excellence to be rewarded – which is partly why he won’t discount his contracting services: “If a farmer says he can hire a cheaper contractor, I say ‘hire him then’. They might seem cheaper but they will also likely be less efficient, less skilled and end up costing more in the long-run.”

He believes the dairy industry’s success is well deserved and says the service industry is contributing to that success by setting itself the same high standards. His company is committed to bringing the cost effective palm kernel to the South Island dairy industry and this commitment is already being rewarded through supply contracts with large-scale farmers like Casey Zeestraten.

“The dairy industry is doing well, and we want them to do well. I love to see people succeed; it’s important to me to see a happy family successfully working together.”

His own family has prospered on this philosophy. J Swap Contractors is a family-owned company, deeply involved in its Matamata community. The directors are David and Lewis Swap, sons of company founder Joe Swap. Their families also work in the business. David’s sons are Stephen (Transport Manager), Cameron (ISO/QA Manager) and Morgan, who is part of the supplementary feed operation.

Lewis runs the quarries and the workshop. His sons are Andrew, the Transport Maintenance Manager, and Michael, who is a contracting project manager, while his son-in-law Simon Carter is the Quarry Repairs Workshop Manager.

Of all the components of J Swap’s latest farm initiative – supplementary feed – PKM has been the most popular since it was introduced into New Zealand in 1999. Copra and soya bean meal are more specialist supplements. These imports have increased exponentially each year – from 35,000 tonnes in 2003 to 90,000 tonnes in 2004 to over 200,000 tonnes in 2005 – as the farming fraternity has accepted these feeds.

This acceptance has been helped by overseas practice, and research in New Zealand. Massey University’s dairy units are customers for Swap supplementary feeds.

Swaps and Hunter Grain have developed a direct-to-farmers approach, with no middlemen clipping the ticket.

Supplementary feeds supply essential nutrients that animals cannot take from pasture at certain times of the year.

Protein is one essential nutrient – for muscle growth, repair and synthesis of body tissues and for reproduction. However protein supply is hit when pasture matures after November each year. At this time energy levels and digestibility are also low, while fibre levels are high, leading to heat stress and loss of appetite – and cows then use up the condition put on over previous months as a protein and energy source.

Pasture protein can fall to 13% in summer – cows need 17% at this time. Feeding PKM is one option to maintain cow condition under such circumstances. It can be mixed with other products such as maize or grass silage or fed straight from trailers or other portable containers. Because of its dry nature cows do not tend to gorge themselves on PKM, ensuring that every cow in the herd will be fed.

Palm Kernel Saviour

Hawke’s Bay farmers suffering from the long drought are turning to palm kernel as a supplementary stock feed.

In the past six weeks about 120 unit loads of 30 tonnes a time have been shipped into the Bay for sheep and beef farmers by J. Swap Contractors of Matamata.

Morgan Swap says while Bay dairy farmers routinely feed palm kernel, this is the first time sheep and beef farmers have used it, and they have trucked product from Wairoa south to Dannevirke.

It’s an unusual product, described by one farmer as “fluffy dirt” but it has high energy levels from 11 to 11.5MJ ME, and it’s very dry with a 90% drymatter content.

A by-product from the extraction of palm oil in Malaysia and Indonesia, it is a high quality stock feed says Clare Mirams of Vet Services Hastings.

It’s a good idea to feed some kind of roughage like hay, straw or silage to provide fibre at the same time, and she advises it should only make up 70 to 80% of the diet.

“The big thing is to keep it dry in storage because if it gets wet, with moisture and warmth it will grow fungi which can cause problems.

“Palm kernel is really good because there is no risk of acidosis unlike feed barley or maize grains. You have to be a little bit careful as it is quite high in copper, so watch you are not supplementing copper at the same time.”

Trucked in bulk from Tauranga, the palm kernel is widely used by dairy farmers. Now sheep and beef farmers are using it because it’s around half the price per kg of drymatter compared to other supplements.

Landed in Hawke’s Bay at about 28c/kg DM, the palm kernel is competing with barley and maize at 41 to 46c, hay at 44 to 50c, barley straw at 41c, and baleage from 40 to 50c or more.

Some farmers like Patoka’s Steve Horgan say it’s making up 80% of his cattle’s diet. “We are feeding rising two-year bulls 3.5kg/day, older cattle up to 4kg and rising yearlings 2.5kg/day.”

“It’s proven to be quite a saviour,” he says. Grass makes up the remainder of their diets.
But he would be more wary feeding lactating stock which are more prone to metabolic issues, he says.

He uses old concrete troughs and old trailers parked in the paddock to feed the bulls from.

“Another good thing about it is that it is delivered within days and its consistency is good.”

Calf Rearing Rations

Feed comparisons
4.55 litres (1gal) milk at 4.5% MF is equivalent to:

1.0 kg skim milk powder (0.4% fat)
0.9 kg buttermilk powder (9.0% fat)
1.5 kg calf meal
0.8 kg high fat milk replacer (18% fat)

Equivalent feeding rations

a) 10 weeks on wholemilk = 318 litres
b) 3 weeks on wholemilk and 7 weeks on skim milk powder = 99.5 litres wholemilk plus 49 kg skim milk powder
c) 3 weeks on wholemilk and 7 weeks on buttermilk powder = 99.5 litres wholemilk plus 44 kg buttermilk powder
d) 10 weeks on high fat milk replacer = 56 kg high fat milk replacer
e) 4 weeks on wholemilk and ad lib meal. Week 5 substitute milk with meal, 6 to 10 weeks 1.4 kg meal/day. This totals 143 litres of wholemilk plus 50 kg meal.
f) Same as for ‘e’ but using buttermilk powder instead of wholemilk = 143 litres of buttermilk powder, plus 50 kg meal.

For Jersey replacement multiply rate by 0.9

For Fresian beef calves multiply rate by 1.1

Artificial colostrum recipe

1 bottle warm milk
1 beaten egg
1 teaspoon codliver oil
1 dessertspoon sugar
1 litre warm water
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sodium bicarbonate for lambs feed, 170ml, 4 times a day

After 48 hours

4 parts milk
1 part water
2 dessertspoons sugar/litre
4 times daily for 2 weeks
3 times daily for 2 – 4 weeks
2 times daily for 4 weeks, plus note that this will not provide required antibodies