AS WELL as providing more energy and starch at no extra cost, processed bread has reduced feed handling times, compared with caustic wheat, at Helmersdale Farm, Northallerton.

The key to making the bread an economic alternative to home-grown wheat is keeping the cost of getting this bulk feed to the farm low.

 About once a month during winter, Alan Hill takes a trailer-load of his home-grown wheat to a depot in Ripon and loads up for the journey home with processed bread for his 170-cow dairy herd.

 The bread, which is 65% dry matter, costing 40-45/t excluding delivery this winter, is actually making it cheaper than untreated wheat on a dry matter basis. Last year the price of the two was similar.

 However, even at the same price, he believes it is a better feed. “The cows do well on bread and I was paying 8-9/t to caustic treat wheat before I changed systems. Treating wheat is also a time-consuming process.”

Mr Hill, whofarms with his sons Darren and Jason, admits proximity to bread supplier KW Alternative Feeds is an important factor, but he also points to several other advantages.

 “Being able to take wheat on the same journey increases efficiency and I don”t have to buy a whole wagonload of bread, because I can take whatever quantity I want in my own trailer.

 “That saves money being tied up in large quantities of feed and means I can sell wheat on the spot market in small amounts, minimising risks. It also means I avoid storing bread for too long.”

 third winter

 This is the third winter that processed bread has been fed to cows on his 182ha (450-acre) dairy and arable holding. It costs less than 20p/head/day, and is fed at an average rate of 2.5kg/head. Other mixed ration ingredients include sugar beet pulp, soya and caustic-treated beans, plus maize and grass silage.

 About 2kg of bread is also offered to the all-year-round calving herd during summer. It is usually added to 3.5-4kg of a sugar beet/palm kernel mix, and fed at 0.26kg/litre of milk produced, says Mr Hill.

Bread should be introduced to diets over a 14-day period and it should not exceed 50% of total dry matter intake, advises KW Alternative Feeds. And bread also comes with a warning not to overfeed because the product”s high starch/gluten content can cause rumen pH to drop rapidly, reducing milk yields.

 Producers are also advised not to feed bread on its own.

 It is better added to a good source of long fibre, such as silage, hay or straw, which will slow rumen activity and improve use.

Bread is supplied in crumb form with wrapping removed and will last for several months when consolidated and sheeted. Under cover in a building, it will keep for about 30 days. It should be fed inside housing, because the product is absorbent and deteriorates quickly when exposed to the elements, explains Mr Hill.

Last winter, yields from the 170 Holstein Friesians averaged 7800kg. The all-year-round calving herd thrived on the inclusion of bread in the diet. “However, should it become too expensive, it will be a simple matter of reverting to feeding home-grown wheat,” reckons Mr Hill.

fwlivestock@rbi.co.uk