Low fat challenge

WHEN FACED with a potential milk price penalty of 1.5p litre because of low butterfat percentage, it had to be worth making some changes to boost the levels at Farley Farms, reading, berks

Farm manager Mark Robins explains that until about a year ago milk from the 200-cow, 9100-litre herd was sold on a liquid Dairy Crest Marks & Spencer contract. But when the farm switched to a constituent-based contract its low butterfat at 3.6%, which was suited to the liquid contract, became a concern.

He calculated that the penalty system would cost the herd 1.5p a litre if nothing was done, so it was worth trying to increase fat percentage through feeding in the short term. Three key changes to the diet have seen fat percentage increase by 0.45% to 4.05%. “This has put us in the nil penalty, nil premium band of 3.9-4.05% fat we aimed for,” he says. “This is what the market wants.”

 The three main changes are growing a third forage of whole-crop pea and spring barley, a longer chop on grass silage and replacing ground wheat with some sugar beet pulp nuts.

Whole-crop, which is about 90% pea, was grown on 24ha (60 acres) and forms a quarter of the forage in the ration. A further quarter comes from grass silage and half is maize.

Mr Robins is confident the costs of changing the diet and requirement for more quota because the farm has a low butterfat base are easily justified by the increase in fat achieved. But he cautions that the changes which have worked on this farm and this type of cow may not work everywhere.

 “You have got to look at the whole farm system, the whole-crop suits our arable rotation and soil type. And I have managed herds where it has proved difficult to increase fat percentage.”