Dairy farmers thinking about keeping their high-yielding cows inside next summer should already be planning, ordering and even taking delivery of the feeds they’re going to need.

Milk producers who are quick off the mark in the early part of the New Year could secure high quality feeds at good value, advises Cumbria nutritionist Jerry Trowbridge. He says last summer’s atrocious weather played havoc with the nutrition of high-yielding cows at grass. There’s no doubt more will be kept inside this summer to ensure they can remain on a constant feed regime and yield won’t be jeopardised.

“But now’s the time to be planning what feeds will be needed and some straights should be bought and stored on farm sooner rather than later,” adds Mr Trowbridge of Lakeland Scottish Feeds in Penrith.

He is forecasting a plentiful supply of moist feeds – in part due to a massive rise in the tonnage of wheat being fermented at a new plant in Newcastle – that will provide a valuable chance for dairy farmers to secure early deliveries of distillers’ grains, draff, brewers’ grains and pot-ale syrup.

“And, hopefully, until the end of January the availability of pressed pulp at about £135/t – which would be more costly if it was dried – gives dairy farmers the chance to buy an excellent moist feed that will last for nine months on the farm when stored correctly. This a valuable feed to condition the rumen and one that works well alongside other moist feeds,” he says.

“Pressed pulp has a 31% dry matter, 12.9ME and 84 D-value. Compared with grass, and even some silages, it’s a superior feed nutritionally. Grass is probably more expensive on the basis of cost per kilo of dry matter.”

Farmers are advised to look for two energy sources. At least one good protein source, as well as an intermediate source – such as pea and bean meal or maize gluten – to provide both energy and protein. The mix will also benefit from a liquid feed like molasses.

“Feed mixes don’t have to be over-complicated, but more dairy farmers are now questioning the real cost of grass as a feed. On a costings basis, for those who are prepared to feed their cows to their full genetic potential, there’s every reason to adopt a policy of keeping cows inside on a TMR diet instead of allowing them to graze grass next summer.

“Moist distilller’s products are good value after an easing in prices that could continue into the spring. Although it would appear there’s little incentive to forward buy, there’s always a chance prices could firm-up again as we move through the winter.

“Producers deliberating over whether to forward buy should base their decision on the cost per tonne of dry matter relative to other feeds. It’s worth working on a spot-price basis, but look out for a price which gets close to £100/t of dry matter. If you’re offered feed at that price level my advice would be to go and buy it and clamp it.”

Mr Trowbridge says dairy farmers who have decided to keep high yielders inside next summer should already be looking at the feed constituents they can secure now and be formulating diets with their advisers. All dry products – if they are stored in a vermin-free, cool, dry location – will remain stable for at least nine months.

“Spend time looking at what’s available and how you can build a diet on the feed opportunities that are available now and in the near future rather than waiting until the spring.”

Cereal and cereal by-products are exceptionally good value based on current prices. “Most dairy farmers couldn’t grow cereals for what they’re costing to buy in. Cereal by-products such as biscuit meals, breakfast cereals, bread and blended products are also worth considering.

“The higher prices of feeds in this range should signify their quality, but beware of some of the cheaper cereal mixes which can be diluted with cocoa shells and aren’t as good. But anything from £110-£130/t has got be good value as long as you know what you are buying and that it’s from a reputable source.

“Dairy farmers should have a plan in place by the New Year so that by turnout time they’re confident they will have all the ingredients on-farm to provide cows with a well-formulated diet.”

High quality value feeds

  • Act quickly to secure supplies of quality feed at good prices
  • Plan now what feeds will be needed and buy straights for on-farm storage
  • Should be plenty of moist feeds available
  • Look for two energy sources – protein and intermediate
  • Dried feed will stay stable for nine months if stored correctly