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Use MAIZE RESIDUES with the correct supplements in winter

June 2018

The current yellow maize price on Safex futures spot price of about R2 120/ton for June 2018 futures is slightly lower than the price ruling in June 2008 which was R2 203. It is quite startling to realise that this was ten years ago.

The comparative values for sunflowers are currently R4 620 to R5 316 ten years ago and R4 465 to R4 702 for soybeans. The yellow maize spot price peaked at R3 635 during May 2016. At this level, few added value farm industries such as poultry, including the production of broilers and layers, dairy, pork, and beef feedlots using maize as a primary product could generate any profits from these operations.

In contrast to the main grain prices fresh beef chuck prices to the consumer went from R43/kg in June 2008 to R88/kg in March 2018. Over ten years beef has generally doubled in value while the main grain prices remained the same or declined. Current and future prices for meat cuts have stabilised as many consumers struggle to pay for meat at retail outlets.

In real terms, taking the decline in the value of the rand, and drastic increases in equipment and direct production costs over ten years it is a wonder that any grain farmers can still survive. Efficient farming within the grain production potential of your area, utilising the plant residues left after maize harvesting, combined with a larger livestock factor can be the watchword for survival and success.

Maize residues as a winter feed option
Maize residues have been used for generations in South Africa and by both large and small farmers throughout the world as a winter feed source for both cattle and sheep. Soybean residues can also be used as a strategic winter feeding source in conjunction with the use of maize residues to carry both sheep and various classes of cattle through winter.

Although the residues are a resource that can be utilised, the actual tonnage that can be eaten by various livestock classes is complicated by other factors. In a conservation tillage maize production system, the farmer must balance the possibility of the livestock compacting the lands if put in to graze when the soil is above field moisture capacity, and the amount of residue that should be left on the land in order to promote the soil cover and fertility enhancing objectives of a conservation tillage programme.

Utilisation of maize residues 
As a general rule the amount of maize residue remaining after combining can be estimated at about equal to the maize yield realised. A 2,5 ton/ha maize seed yield would leave about 2,5 tons of maize residues on the land for winter utilisation. A 4,5 ton seed yield would leave about 4,5 tons of residues/ha on the land and so on to drylands yields of 8 tons/ha to 10 tons/ha and irrigated pivot lands of 16 tons/ha seed yield. On some farms there is thus a vast feed resource that can be effectively used by sheep or cattle.

The residues are made up of maize grain still on the cob, on the ground from shattering while being combined, the cob itself, leaves and stalks. The stubble left depends on the combining method and height of the maize head cutter bar. The degree of mashing or shredding of the residue also depends on the amount of shredding imparted by the attachments on the combine. The amount and quality of residue would vary from farm to farm.

In a trial at the Dundee Research Station over three years, 7,4 tons/ha of maize residues made up of 0,2 ton/ha of grain, 1,47 tons/ha of cob, 3,17 tons/ha of leaf and 2,52 tons of stalk. 4,1 tons of the residue material available was used over six weeks. The farmer must always observe the animals for weight and condition loss. The optimum grazing period might only be a period of 4 to 5 weeks depending on the actual conditions experienced and allowance for the planned conservation tillage cycle.

A large cow will eat between 8 to 10 kilograms of residue per day. 4,5 ton/ha of residues can thus carry one large cow/ha for 45 to 56 days as a rough guide or 100 cows/ha for about 4,5 to 5,6 days. You would have to make an estimate pertinent to your herd and class of animals put into the lands whether being young cows or cows with calves. It is critical to have good fencing and enough water available. Residues also can blow away or be less available in very wet winter conditions.

Supplementary licks
The use of commercially available licks can either be used to maintain the weight condition of a herd or mixed to increase and enhance the growth of the animals placed on the land for residue grazing. Licks are a must to encourage the cattle to use the residues and provide much needed protein both sourced from urea and non-urea sources, fibre, calcium, phosphorous, magnesium, sulphur, potassium, copper, manganese, zinc, cobalt, iodine, iron, selenium and vitamin A. Usage per head could be between 375 grams/head/day to 500 grams/head/day depending on all the factors involved.

Farmers can buy a basic mix to mix with their own maize depending on the objectives to be targeted. It is essential to get advice from the established companies providing many different formulations and experience to suit your farming situation and requirements. The subject has become a complex science and depends on your whole grazing cycle planning and herd management requirements.

Consideration of your climatic zone, veldt types and planted dryland or irrigated pastures utilised, as well as the estimated yield of maize crop residues, can be incorporated into an effective plan to provide feed for your herd throughout the year.

Article submitted by a retired farmer.

Publication: June 2018

Section: Pula/Imvula