Paying for independent advice when planning winter rations is money well spent, says Flintshire producer Kevin Jones.
He and his father Glyn manage 250 pedigree Holsteins on a high input, high output system at Bryn Mawr, Northop.
“I believe we benefit from using the services of a nutritionist who can update us about what feeds are available on the market and suggest possible combinations,” says Mr Jones.
Ration planning is given high priority, as the policy is to achieve both high yields and, because they sell milk to Glanbia for cheese making, good milk quality.
When Mr Jones joined the business 25 years ago production was grass-based.
Things really started to change with the introduction of maize.
The pace accelerated when he moved into DIY AI and started browsing semen catalogues to find better bloodlines.
Bulls are selected on type, yield and over the last five years milk yield has increased steadily to 10,100 litres/cow at 3.95% fat and 3.41% protein.
“I want a big-bodied cow that can produce a lot of milk from grass, grass and maize silage, whole-crop cereal and concentrate,” he says.
The 214ha (530-acre) farm now grows 26ha (64 acres) of maize and another 6ha (15 acres) are bought as a standing crop.
This year contractors have also harvested 17ha (42 acres) of whole-crop barley and wheat, including 8ha (20 acres) grown for the farm by a neighbour.
The grazing season runs from about 20 March to mid-October.
Cows calve all year, but mainly between June and January and are buffer fed maize silage at night in summer to maintain milk quality.
Mr Jones starts planning his winter rations with ADAS consultant David Peers as soon as first cut grass silage is analysed.
This year the silage is 48.6% dry matter, has a D-value of 73, an ME of 11.6 and is 17.3% crude protein.
Using these figures, the likely analysis of whole-crop and maize silage and herd production targets, it is possible to formulate a total mixed ration for the first part of the winter that incorporates the best value feeds on the market.
Caustic wheat is a regular constituent as it is degraded slowly and helps keep up milk protein.
The grain is bought from local farms and treated at Bryn Mawr.
Dr Peers and Mr Jones use all available information to come up with possible rations.
“Then I get on the telephone and shop around for the best deals,” says Mr Jones.
This year the chosen ingredients are rapeseed meal costing 87/t up to November and 92/t afterwards, beet pulp costing 92/t to December and Hipro soya bean meal at 162/t.
A cow in early lactation that has a condition score of 2.5 and is giving 40 litres of milk/day at 4.0% fat and 3.3% protein will be offered 50.5kg/day of a mixed ration containing 22kg maize silage, 15kg first cut grass silage and 5kg of whole-crop wheat.
The remainder of the daily ration will be made up of caustic wheat and rapeseed, soya and sugar beet. With another 2kg of a 13ME compound at 20% protein and 0.2kg of minerals fed in the parlour, this gives a total concentrate intake 10.7kg a day.
Total daily dry matter intake should equal 23.33kg of DM, of which 14.33kg DM will come from forage.
The first orders for straights were placed by the end of August. But Mr Jones and Dr Peers will watch the price of straights throughout the winter to see whether tweaking the ration composition can save money without losing performance.
For the last five years parlour fed concentrate has been bought in at competitive prices through the Vale Buying Group.
“We have to keep costs under control to survive when the milk price is so poor, but I believe it pays to push out more litres/cow and /ha.
“I try hard to be optimistic, which is not easy when the milk price is 18p/litre.”
“We put in a new 28:28 parlour two years ago, which has allowed us to increase the herd from 170 to 250 head.
But we may have to go even higher to spread costs over a bigger volume of production.”
Staffing has also been cut to two part-time employees and a purpose built shed now houses youngstock.
Belgian Blue semen is still used on poorer cows and the farm has a Limousin sweeper bull.
Surplus calves are sold at 10 days old.
And sexed semen is now being tried to overcome the problem of surplus Holstein bull calves.