By upgrading a mixer wagon, converting to a full total mixed ration and taking nutritionist advice, a Somerset milk producer has improved milk price by 1.75p/litre, reduced vet bills and considerably improved overall margins.
Keen to improve both milk quality and feed conversion efficiency (FCE) of their 130-cow, predominantly black-and-white herd, father and son partnership John and Sam Crocker sought advice from Keenan nutritionist Mark Voss on how to best achieve these outcomes.
“We had a Keenan feeder wagon and fed a partial TMR alongside 7kg a cow a day in the parlour, but wanted to improve performance and rumen health, with the hope of increasing our margins,” says Mr Crocker.
Since they were supplying Wyke Farms on a cheese contract, emphasis had to be on milk quality and achieving a sustainable level of milk production. “We try to grow as much of our forage on farm as possible and took on 40ha (100 acres) two years ago to enable us to do this,” he explains.
Purchasing a Klassik 140 mixer, complete with knives, in July enabled the Crockers to adjust to a single ration TMR with a flat rate of 1kg a cow concentrate fed in the parlour daily. “We have increased the use of home-grown cereals, including soda wheat, with the aim of boosting milk protein, to receive a higher overall contract price from our processor.”
In addition, forward buying of rape and soya on contract has allowed Church Farm to minimise the pressure of increased feed prices, if only for the short term.
“The biggest alteration is the addition of straw to the diet, designed both to raise butterfat and improve overall rumen health, something the new feeder wagon is well placed to do,” reckons Mr Crocker.
“Our average yield has jumped from 6200 litres a cow in July to the current level of 6800 litres a cow, with butterfat increasing from 4% to 4.62% and protein from 3.21% to 3.64% in the same period,” he says. “Ultimately, this has increased yields by more than two litres a day a cow.”
Adjusting the dry cow ration to a high fibre mix in September has meant cows are now calving with fewer problems, with vet visits being reduced to monthly instead of fortnightly.
“Not only has the change resulted in fewer problems at calving, but cases of milk fever have also become rare,” adds Mr Crocker. Overall fertility has improved, with only 10% having to be washed out, as compared to 75% the previous year.
All replacements are bred and reared on farm, while a proportion of black-and-white bull calves are exported to Holland. “We bought a number of MRIs to increase herd size and these steers are kept and finished on farm to provide additional income,” he says.
Working on a level contract basis with the processor enables more accurate budgeting, according to Mr Crocker. “We can budget our outgoings, knowing what we have coming in each month, making it easier throughout the year.”
Overall, the switch has resulted in an improvement in FCE of 8%, an average milk price rise of 1.75p/litre and margin over feed to improve by 50p a cow a day.