29 August 1997

Consistent forage intake key to maximum income

MAINTAINING forage intakes throughout the year when cows are fed a low concentrate diet is the key to maximising income from milk protein payments.

According to DRC consultant David Roberts the most difficult year for Crichton Royal Farms Acrehead low input herd – on just 500kg of concentrate/cow a year – was 95/96 when milk proteins fell to about 3% in winter (see graph below). Average milk protein for that quota year was 3.16%.

Milk protein % for the 66-cow herd was low at turnout the following spring and was slow to recover during the summer. Levels improved, however, in winter 96/97 and held up better in the following summer.

At current milk protein payments, loss in milk income due to low milk proteins in 95/96 was £2439 compared with 96/97 when protein recovered to 3.33%. Now, thanks to higher proteins this summer, the herds on target to average 3.4% this year, says Dr Roberts. This will increase protein payments by a further £1007 above 96/97 levels – increasing milk income by nearly £3500 on 95/96.

This demonstrates that it is worth keeping milk proteins up for the extra £50 a cow secured in a good over a poor year. Key to maintaining protein % is ensuring cows receive enough energy all year, says Dr Roberts.

In summer cows in Acreheads low input herd are fed no concentrate provided grass supply is adequate. "This means it is vital to have enough grass for grazing. But it is not economic to give cows extra grass to improve milk protein contents when you end up wasting the grass."

In winter, proteins have been high at up to 3.46% in years when cows have unrestricted amounts of high quality forage, and so are achieving high energy intakes, says Dr Roberts.

"It is easy to say cows are fed ad-lib, but is there enough in the clamp? Measure the pit and plan now. Then monitor use by putting a chalk mark on the wall each month."

This year there is enough silage and whole-crop clamped for cows. It is important that enough forage for the winter is secured by late September, he says. He believes it is also safer for low input systems to have to have complementary forages that increase intakes and spread risks of a poor grass silage harvest. If the farm did need more feed it could buy in straw, brewers grains, wet distillers grains or potatoes.

Although this year other feeds are cheap, they are not needed to produce the amount of milk for the quota available, says Dr Roberts. Herd size has already been reduced by four cows, because higher than expected yields of 5600 litres are being produced with just 500kg of concentrates fed. Reducing cow numbers further will keep milk sales within the quota allocated.

Dr Roberts adds that a balanced diet is also essential for maintaining milk proteins. This winters ration will include whole-crop for starch, and fodder beet which is high in energy. Both are low in protein, however, so the cows, which are fed only 2kg of concentrates a day, need good quality protein supplements. Straights such as dark distillers grains, soya and fishmeal or a fishmeal equivalent will be mixed with the forages. No parlour concentrate is fed.

There is no logic in increasing fat % because of the extra quota needed, adds Dr Roberts. The high forage diet means fats are high anyway averaging 4.22% – and this is a consequence of this type of profitable high forage system.n

Key to maintaining protein % is ensuring cows receive enough energy – in summer that means plenty of grass for Acreheads low input herd.

(Left): DRC consultant Dave Roberts: Better milk proteins can earn an extra £50 a cow.

CONSISTENT PROTEIN %

&#8226 Ad-lib forage essential.

&#8226 Mixed forage diets.

&#8226 Balanced ration needed.