26 November 1999

CONTRACTSWITCH HAS BUTTERFAT ONTHERUN

Considering changing

contract? Chances are youll

need to change nutrition too.

Marianne Curtis visits one

Cambs producer who is making

the most of his new contract

LOYALTY to Milk Marque proved to be too expensive for one Cambs producer earlier this year. But a switch to Dairy Crest meant curbing the herds traditionally high butterfat levels to avoid quota volume reductions.

The decision to sell milk from the 145-cow summer calving herd, based at Gaynes Lodge Farm, Great Staughton, followed a squeeze in margins which could no longer be sustained, says herd manager David Herdman.

"Against the competition, we had been receiving less money through staying with Milk Marque since it kicked off. When margins became tighter we had to change. Whichever alternative company we considered it promised an extra £20,000 a year. Its a figure you cant ignore."

Mr Herdman felt safest selling milk to Dairy Crest, as its Fenstanton factory is just down the road from the unit. But Dairy Crests policy of capping milk quality payments at 4.41% fat meant the herds rolling average of 4.3%, with some months higher than the capped level, needed reducing.

"With Milk Marque, the sky was the limit for butterfat. For certain months you could receive a good price for milk containing 5% fat. We were always over the farms fat base on quota. Being over quota added 4-5% to our annual production.

No leeway

"With Milk Marque we could comfortably be 1-2% over quota. There is no leeway with Dairy Crest, but prices are better."

Although Mr Herdman has been selecting bulls negative on butterfat for some years, the herd was upgraded from Ayrshires which means butterfat has remained at quite high levels.

Achieving a short term drop in butterfat levels, therefore, depended on changing nutrition. In February, Mr Herdman met with his Axient consultant Steve Churms and Dalgety feed specialist Alison Ewing to discuss the way forward.

"Herd performance in the 1998-99 quota year was disappointing. The wet spring in 1998 meant pastures never recovered," says Mr Herdman. An outbreak of winter dysentery didnt help and the herd fell short of its 7800-litre/cow target by about 500 litres.

From the meeting a plan was formulated to make the most of the Dairy Crest contract. It was decided to aim for 8000 litres/cow and bring butterfats down, eliminating the need to purchase or buy in extra quota. The herds existing calving pattern from June to August happened to fit in well with Dairy Crests seasonality payments policy.

Previously cow rations were based on a 50:50 ratio of grass and maize silage plus home-grown hammer milled barley and concentrates. Ms Ewing suggested substituting home-grown wheat for barley and feeding 12kg/head/day of brewers grains in place of some of the concentrate to reduce butterfats.

The reduction in fat levels achieved, surprised Mr Herdman (see table). "I didnt think there would be such a big swing in fat levels as theyve always been high. As milk volume has increased, I was expecting to purchase an extra 20,000 litres of quota, but the extent of fat reduction means this has been unnecessary."

Butterfat battle

Increasing yields has also helped in the battle against butterfat, through a dilution effect. Metabolic profiles conducted last year showed that dry cows were in energy deficit which exacerbated the effects of energy shortfall in early lactation.

Grass growth on the unit is variable and cows rely heavily on conserved forage in summer and winter. "We metabolic profiled dry cows last year and discovered that some were in energy deficit in the dry period which didnt help production in early lactation, says Mr Herdman.

"Dry cow management has been improved since, and we begin feeding dry cows grass and maize silage and brewers grains two weeks before calving so that they are better prepared for the lactation diet." Before, cows had dry cow compound at grass with no silage or grains.

Getting enough feed into milking cows in summer means a lunchtime feed in addition to buffer feeding forage for a couple of hours at each milking, according to Mr Herdman. The energy status of cows has improved this year and he believes offering brewers grains alongside the two silages has encouraged intakes.

Improvements in performance have been reflected financially. The herds overall margin is forecast to be £144,092 this year compared with £122,865 last year. This takes account of the October milk price drop of 1.5p/litre.

"Despite the latest fall in milk price, we are on target for 8000 litres and may be a bit better off than last year," concludes Mr Herdman. &#42

NMR butterfat % at

Gaynes Lodge Farm

Month 1999 1998

May 3.92 4.85

June 3.78 4.32

July 3.97 4.32

August 4.01 4.16

September 3.69 4.08

October 3.48 4.04

LOWBUTTERFATTIPS

&#8226 Check milk contract

&#8226 Select low fat bulls

&#8226 12kg/head/day brewers grains

&#8226 Wheat instead of barley

&#8226 Increase yield

&#8226 Lush, early cut leys

&#8226 Cut maize silage higher