A management tweak at Thornton Grange has more than paid off in higher milk yields just as the average milk price has taken a hit. Wendy Short reports

Spending a little extra cash altering his dairy cows’ winter ration rewarded Peter Chapman with an extra 6000kg of milk last month – a very welcome dividend after a cut in his rolling average milk price.

In November Mr Chapman began to worry that his cows’ forage intake was not living up to its promise, and added 1kg of sugar beet pulp and 0.3kg of soya to their diets, at a cost of 15p extra a day for each cow.

But in January, his cows produced 115,000kg, an increase of 3kg a day of extra milk from each cow, which translates into an additional 36p profit per cow every day. This has helped to offset a drop in the rolling average milk price, which has fallen from 18.1p/litre before Christmas, to just 17.8p/litre.

Performance

“This has highlighted how a small tweak in management can have a big effect on business performance,” he says. “I know 36p doesn’t sound much, but it adds up to £54 a day at our current numbers. With extra cows, the figures would be even more significant.

“However, not every change is guaranteed to bring an improvement, and added to that is the risk of disease. This has been a sharp reminder that as the herd gets larger, the financial risk will become much greater.”

This has focused Mr Chapman’s mind on his expansion plan, which will see his herd move from 160 to 200 cows over the next two years.

Although he has spent a lot of time fine-tuning his technical strategy for the extra cows, there is still a threat hanging over the business plan.

Mr Chapman’s contract with Arla prevents him from selling his milk anywhere else for 12 months, starting in April.

Permission

And changes brought in by the company last autumn mean he now needs permission to expand, but there is still no news of Arla’s final decision.

“I told them of my plans in the early stages, but I have only recently been asked to send in my yield forecasts, and I have not heard anything back yet,” he says.

“As a dairy farmer, I really need to know where I am going for the next three years, so this is making life a bit difficult. The timing of the expansion notification ruling has not worked in my favour.”

Slow progress

Progress on the new parlour has been disappointingly slow, due to a hold-up with the arrival of the steel frame. Nevertheless, Mr Chapman has put up the block wall for the dairy and store room. He is also getting on with laying the main entrance and collecting yard, for which 20cu m of concrete will be needed.

“I did the parlour costings last summer, but materials prices seem to have gone up by about 10% since then.

“I have also decided to put in a new handling system, with a footbath and crush, during this phase. It will save disruption later on, although it has added £15,000-£20,000 to the original estimate.

“At the moment, the system is inefficient, using a crush against a doorway and a system of tied gates. With more cows, I am going to need all the labour-saving devices I can afford.”

And he is keen to point out that the project is still on schedule. “I have been getting ribbed by my fellow farmers, because I initially said the new parlour would be up and running before Christmas. But I didn’t actually say which Christmas I was referring to.”

Milk production figures

  • Rolling margin over purchased feed: £1050/cow
  • Feed cost/litre: 4.15p
  • Feed kg/litre: 0.29
  • Milk value/cow: £1350
  • Rolling average milk price: 17.8p