8 March 2002

Cheap by-products give valuable yield increases

By Robert Davies

Wales correspondent

POOR quality first cut silage made on a Cardiganshire farm two years ago triggered a complete rationing rethink that now sees by-products bulking up cow diets, despite its remote location.

"Silage yield was high and it was quite well fermented, but it had low metabolisible energy and protein," says Clive Mills, who runs Ffynnon Fair, Lampeter, in partnership with his wife and brother in-law. "There was simply no milk in it.

"We bought 180t of grainbeet and fed more concentrate. Doing this allowed us to fill our quota, but it cost us a lot to do so."

With plans to increase cow numbers and average yield above 8000 litres, the partners decided that depending on variable silage and bought in concentrate was not the way ahead. Concentrate was fed inside and outside the parlour. Instead, they bought a second-hand mixer wagon and persuaded a feed supplier to formulate simple rations, based on straights and low cost bulk feeds.

"When we could not source grainbeet this winter, we opted for Trafford Gold, which is maize from which glucose has been extracted. It is being delivered monthly in 28t loads and costs £54/t."

October to March calving cows are offered 5kg a head of the product, mixed with 4kg of caustic treated wheat, 1kg of rape meal, 1kg of soya and 1kg of a commercial protein blend.

This is mixed with grass silage and the ration is expected to provide maintenance and 35 litres of milk. Cows yielding more than that are fed 0.35kg/litre of cake in the parlour for extra litres.

Invasion by huge black clouds of starlings proved to be the only snag associated with using the mixer. The solution was to feed at night, after birds had roosted. A few still try to scavenge after dawn, but the problem is no longer serious.

The herd will number 110 at turnout, which is always delayed on the 100ha (250-acre) farm, because about 20ha (50 acres) of land is susceptible to flooding.

"Turnout is normally in April. This is not a farm for the Kiwi extended grazing system. The herd also has good genetic merit, so is suitable for a high input-high output system. The average yield is close to 8000 litres a cow and rising."

The farm has a quota of 600,000 litres, including some leased in at 0.5p/litre. Though conditions sometimes prevent it, the aim is to produce good quality grass silage. This winter, first and third cut material has an ME of 12.5MJ/kg DM and 16 to 17% protein. Ration planning is based on silage analysis.

"We try hard to get a good margin by finding the most economic way of supplementing silage to produce milk, but the 17.8p/litre we were getting in January means that there is nothing for reinvestment in the business. We seem to be working harder for less money.

"There is no doubt that my wife Liz and I would have been far better off staying in teaching rather than coming here to farm in 1979."

Mr Mills is still angry about the break up of Milk Marque. He believes that producers must increase their bargaining power through co-operation, even if it means accepting a lower price for a while.

"We are still selling though a co-operative and intend to stick with the principal, but it is tough when moving might increase income by £1000 a month.

"But producers need a fair deal from processors and retailers to give them a reasonable and sustainable price increase." &#42