CREATING A MILKING platform – by sending youngstock and dry cows off farm – is an option for expansion, but it is only profitable when extra milk income is realised.

Some milk producers keen to increase herd size, when limited by acres and getting access to the farm next door is impossible, are taking this Kiwi approach. Their solution is to buy or rent a second farm some distance away to act as a heifer rearing and dry cow unit, leaving just milking cows at home.

 A milking platform is an area grazed only by milking cows, says Livestock Improvement consultant Paul Kane. “It”s the most profitable way of converting grass into money. A kg of dry matter into a cow will give a 15p return in the UK, while into a heifer calf the equivalent would be 8p,” he says.

 “In New Zealand, youngstock are sent off farm after weaning. In the South Island, where grass does not grow during winter, dry cows are either fed bought-in feed or graze off the platform.

 “In the North Island, where winter growth rates can sustain dry cows, they graze the milking area on a long, slow rotation.”

 Producers benefit from operating a platform because it simplifies management through focusing on just one class of stock. They also turn grass straight into milk.

 But Mr Kane cautions that producers will fail to maximise a milking platform”s potential when they do not increase cow numbers to graze the bigger available acreage. “Unless they put more cows on to increase stocking rates and replace heifers, a lot of grass is wasted.

“Stocking rates need to go to 3 to 3.5/ha. But increasing herd size alters the labour profile and puts pressure on the infrastructure.”

The result is that unless the parlour is revamped, paddock water supply boosted and tracks widened, more cows can”t be managed and milked off grass. “The parlour becomes too small and staff can”t cope.”

 Producers who try to lift yields by 1000 litres a cow instead, lose out on profit, as they end up making more silage. Far better, says Mr Kane, to graze that extra grass with more cows of the same yield.

Milking platforms evolved in block calving herds, which makes management of dry cows easier. Yet Mr Kane believes they have a role for year-round calving herds wanting to expand. “Year-round calving complicates it, as profitability, per<00AD>formance and feed are harder to measure. But herds with good record keeping can make financial progress.”

 Efficiency also becomes an issue when the off-lying unit is too far from the home farm to keep an eye on progress, says Mr Kane. Plus moving stock between units brings disease risks.

shirley.macmillan@rbi.co.uk