13 August 1999

Always areas to make cost savings

By Marianne Curtis

MANY producers would be fairly satisfied with a profit of 6.5p/ litre in the current climate.

But after reducing costs by extending grazing and maximising silage intake, one Hants producer is aiming to shave a few more pence a litre off his production costs.

At a farm walk discussion meeting hosted by LKL Services on tenant Simon Martins 73ha (180-acre) North Fareham Farm, Portsmouth, cost control was the key topic.

Farm management consultant Chris White told how falling milk prices led to a review of the 180-cow dairy enterprise management to maintain profits. "With only marginal returns to be gained from producing additional milk, it was clear that to maintain profits, variable and overhead costs had to be reduced," he said.

Herd averages moved from 6860 litres in Nov 1997, of which 3822 litres came from forage, to 7651 litres in June 1999 with 5628 litres from forage.

"Better grazing management and increasing average grass cover from 2100 kg DM/ha to 2300 kg DM/ha has helped improve intakes," said Mr White.

This higher level of cover is achieved by holding cows off grass during drought and supplementing with silage rather than grazing hard.

The grazing season has also been extended by about three months, with turnout on Feb 15 and housing on Nov 1. Keeping cows grazing early in the season, meant being hard on them was necessary, according to herd manager, Steve Tiley.

"You have to educate cows to the system. When you turn them out you have to make them stay out. If they stand at the gate waiting to come in, do not let them, they will get used to it eventually."

Earlier turnout has also brought a silage dilemma. Up to now, an 80:20 ratio of maize and grass silage has been fed, helping to keep average concentrate use down to 6kg of a 30% protein 13 ME concentrate a day in winter. But the maize portion may have to fall with increased use of grass.

"Feeding maize silage while cows are grazing can cause big problems because they go off grass. Grass silage is better because they continue grazing," added Mr White.

Restricting maize last winter in an attempt to persuade cows to graze led to a yield drop.

"We will probably end up with a 50:50 ratio because the more grass you graze, the more silage you have to make in May to keep on top of grass," said Mr Martin.

But breeding policy is likely to remain the same, with an emphasis on breeding high PIN animals in the £40-£60 range. "There is no problem with high genetic merit cows on grass, but there can be problems getting them in calf." With a 40-50% conception rate to first service, there was room for improvement believed Mr Tiley. "I am aiming for a 90% submission rate; we are achieving 70%, which is too low. I will have more time to address submission rates this winter as we are using cubicle mats saving an hour a day spent bedding with straw."

Despite the system appearing to be simpler, the three men agree that it requires more management. "If you get grazing wrong in May, you have to live with it for the whole year," said Mr Martin.