24 July 1998

Cost cuts hold milk profits

Lowering milk production

costs, increased use of

clover and alternative

enterprises were hot topics

at last weeks BGS summer

tour. Jessica Buss reports

MILK producer Stephen Brandon has cut production costs by 3.8p/litre between his 1997 and 1998 accounts, with lower feed costs contributing 2.1p of the saving.

This has helped Mr Brandon, of New Buildings Farm, Hopton, Stafford, maintain profits after a fall in milk price with just four extra cows.

Production costs are now down to 15.3p/litre before rent, finance, depreciation and quota costs for the 101ha (250-acre) farm, which supports 170 cows and replacement heifers.

A fall in milk price of 1.5p/litre was more than compensated for by savings made though increased production from forage, without any rise in forage costs, by reducing concentrate use and lower concentrate prices.

"Last winter we fed less concentrate a cow and saved money on the price a tonne by mixing maize gluten with silage and feeding a mix of soya, rapemeal and maize screenings in out-of-parlour feeders," said Mr Brandon. He also fed less concentrate last summer, having gained confidence in rotational grazing using permanently fenced 1.5-2ha (3.7-4.9-acre) paddocks.

Further savings last year included 1.2p/litre less spending on farm repairs. In 1996/7 Mr Brandon had improved water troughs and tracks to grazing to allow him to produce more from grazed grass.

He said that to raise production from forage, especially grazing, he began rotational grazing in 1996. But that has not meant reduced milk yields, which have risen by over 600 litres in three years, to 7558 litres a cow.

Now he produces almost 60% of milk from forage – 4370 litres a cow – compared with 40% in 1995; 2588 litres from a 6922-litre yield. All grass is available for grazing, with silage taken from surpluses, he said. Tack sheep have been given up, with youngstock and dry cows used to clean up paddocks in the autumn.

Mr Brandon measures grass cover using a plate meter once a week and has an average cover of 2300kg of dry matter over the farm, and grass is growing at 72kg DM/ha a day. Milking cows were grazing on a 20-day rotation but because they only needed 50kg/ha of growth to support their needs, he was considering reducing fertiliser use.

He hoped to halve concentrate use by the year 2000, but only reduce yields to 7000 litres a cow.

"This will take two years to achieve because we have to move to spring calving to produce more milk from grazed grass.

"Previously the herd calved between August and March. This autumn half the herd will block calve between September and November, and the other half will begin in March. Next year we will have more spring calvers, including 44 heifers," he added.

COSTSAVINGS

&#8226 Reduced feed rates in winter.

&#8226 Cheaper concentrates.

&#8226 More reliance on summer grazing.

&#8226 Moving herd to spring calving.

A concrete track is just part of the investment made in rotational grazing by Stephen Brandon, the visitors on the BGS tour were told.