20 February 1998

Concentrates down, £s up

In the first of a series

developing messages from

the FW/Axient dairy profit

roadshows, we find out how

reducing concentrates can

pay off. Jessica Buss reports

REDUCING concentrate use by more than half and a small increase in cow numbers have increased profit by £18,000 on one Avon farm, preparing it well for the fall in milk price.

Tom and Ben Letts acted swiftly when there were rumours of milk price cuts in the summer of 1996, because they had invested heavily in new buildings, having bought Sperring Farm at Clapton-in-Gordano, Bristol, as tenants just a few years before.

They also needed to lease a lot of quota for the 80-cow herd; it was averaging 7690 litres a cow in Mar 1996 from 2.7t of concentrate a cow.

Tom Letts says that until 1996, high milk prices had been used to justify substantial concentrate use to increase yields and to invest in buildings. Once they could see milk price falling he realised changes to the business were needed.

He and son Ben, a partner in the business, approached Axient senior consultant Paul Henman for guidance on how best to restructure the business.

Mr Henman says the first step in increasing profits was to set objectives for the short and long term.

"The farm was short of quota and needed to lease more, but leasing prices were high at over 14p/litre and concentrate use was also high." They, therefore, set a target for cutting back concentrate use to reduce the extra quota needed.

Cow numbers would at the same time increase slowly to improve the stocking rate, that was low at 1.7/ha (0.7/acre) in Mar 1996. Herd expansion would also make better use of buildings, the unit was built to house 140 cows.

Extra profit of £18,262 has been secured even though quota leasing was 1.2p/litre higher than in 95/9, by reducing reliance on concentrate and accepting lower yields off more cows. Herd expansion – by 13 cows so far – has not increased fixed costs.

Ben Letts admits he was reluctant to cut concentrates because it would reduce yields but the projected figures, based on what herds were achieving in similar circumstances, showed how much extra money he could earn by dropping feed use.

"The feeding plan set was followed and it predicted performance accurately. Cows forage intakes increased but we had the acres to provide it and enough silage clamped," says Ben Letts.

Dropping concentrate use by 1.5t a cow to under 1t only reduced yield by 700 litres a cow, but improved efficiency. Each litre produced from the extra 1.5t of concentrate fed previously had been costing them 30p. Feeding less cake also allowed cows to make better use of the forage available, doubling yield from forage to 4774 litres a cow with an average yield of 6987 litres.

"We were worried about the calving interval but it has been maintained at 365 days. Cows were split so that summer calvers in mid-lactation were in one group and fresh calvers were kept separately," adds Mr Letts. Most of the herd calves from October to March, with a small group calving in summer.

Fresh calvers still receive about 7kg of concentrates – only 1-2kg less than before – but in-calf mid and late lactation cows are fed much less concentrate, up to only 2.5kg a head this year.

"Once the Letts had seen how well cows performed to the end of the quota year in Mar 1997, they had confidence in the ability of the cows to perform without high concentrate inputs," adds Mr Henman.

This years fresh calvers are receiving 13kg grass silage, 33kg maize silage, 0.5kg straw, 3.5kg Sodawheat (including added water), 1kg rapemeal, 2kg soya, 0.25kg fishmeal and minerals, with 1kg of a 22% crude protein concentrate in the parlour. Cows over 150 days calved are offered 28kg grass silage, 30kg maize silage, 0.5kg rapemeal, 1kg soya and minerals, with a maximum of 1kg of concentrate in the parlour.

Longer-term objectives include increasing cow numbers to 135 from herd replacements by Oct 1999 to fill the buildings and increase the stocking rate on the 57ha (140-acre) farm. Output will be increased from cow numbers and genetics without raising concentrate use, and cows will calve in one block to simplify management. &#42

Halving concentrate use doubled the yield from forage, and cow yields fell by only 700 litres, according to adviser Paul Henman (left) and Ben Letts.

IMPROVING MARGINS

&#8226 Reduce concentrates.

&#8226 Make use of forage available.

&#8226 Have confidence in cows to milk from forage.

Margins for Sperrings Farm (year to end March)


1996 1997

Cows 79 92

Yield (litres) 7,690 6,987

Yield from forage (litre) 1,914 4,722

Milk price (p/litre) 24.51 24.5

Concentrate

(kg a cow) 2,790 1,049

Margin

(£ a cow) 1,490 1,553

(p/litre) 19.38 22.23

(herd £) 117,720 142,612

Quota cost (£) 9,120 15,750

(p/litre) 11.4 12.6

Margin after quota

herd £ 108,600 126,862