By Simon Wragg
FED up of working harder and for longer, but getting little extra benefit? Then it is time to challenge what you do with your dairy herd.
That was the advice of Glossop-based independent feed consultant Colin Orr to members gathered at the Cheshire Grassland Societys recent meeting at Reaseheath College, Nantwich.
"In the UK cows are lasting an average of 2.3 lactations – thats horrendous. We need to challenge what we are doing," said Mr Orr.
Financial pressure is forcing more producers to look at ways of increasing profits. "How are we going to do it, by adding more cows?" That could be a road to ruin, he warned.
"If we increase average yield to 7500 litres a cow, all were getting paid on is the 1500 litres over the base line costs. Those 1500 litres times 20p/litre will generate £300 in income. Youve got to have a heck of a lot of animals to increase profits," he said.
Too much time is being spent looking at numbers and not at the cows environment. "How many people have had the experience of drying off half a dozen cows and milk in the tank stays the same? Cows, like people, enjoy space.
"If your farm, forage and feeding regime is producing 9000-10,000 litres in some animals and you accept that 6000 litres production is a break-even point, each of these cows taking up your buildings is potentially robbing you of 4000 litres.
"Why not take out the bottom 25%, if theyre just breaking even, and create space to let others express themselves? Why not go out and buy 12 cows which are doing as well as or better than the top 25% and increase output with fewer cows?"
Producers also need to challenge the way dairy cows are being fed, warned Mr Orr. "We shovel all this food into the cow and expect her to milk. You need to start looking from the other end."
Using crude protein as an example, he suggested diet levels had risen 4-5% over the past 10-15 years. But yields remained fairly static. "Its not contributing much to what goes into the bulk tank."
Often, feeding a 21% compound feed overloads the rumen, he said. "Crude protein is a chain of amino acids. When rumen bugs cant make use of it they have to expel them or the rumen has the potential to become toxic.
"When a diet is short of essential amino acids it will have a limiting effect on production. A cow can only produce to the level of the lowest essential amino acid."
Using US experience, the first essential amino acid for dairy cows is methionine. Feedstuffs need to be analysed to assess the supply of these essential amino acids to ensure the rumen can function efficiently.
"Once methionine has checked, we look for the second essential amino acid – possibly lysine – and then the third, leucine. Get these right and you can achieve a cows genetic potential from a 14% protein diet, but it has to be the right protein," he explained.
"If you dont load up the rumen with unnecessary protein, a cow will eat more feed diet and not spend her time digesting all the bad bits from those unwanted protein chains."
Producers have it within their grasp to pull together and source a specially formulated ration designed to their needs – not what a compounder has available – while achieving control over price, said Mr Orr.
"Think about what weve been told about falling fertility. Copper is often blamed and, low and behold, for £600/t a mineral supplier will do you a mix. Ive come to the conclusion in dairy herds Ive seen its not copper thats deficient, its energy.
"We have cows capable of producing 40-50 litres/day and this places huge demands on her energy supplies. If the ration isnt right shell just take it out of her reserves. The nearer you can get to meeting her energy needs, the better fertility you will have. Lets challenge what were being told.
"We need to start looking after cows – feeding them to be healthy and fertile. Everything else will come from that," he said. *
Feeding less protein in cow diets will ease rumen loading, so a cow can eat more, explains Colin Orr.
• Increase cow numbers?
• Reconsider diet protein.
• Feed energy for fertility.