Expanding herds is key to dairy profits
Increasing cow numbers to
maintain herd profitability
was a key topic at an LKL
open day held at a new
dairy unit in Hants.
Richard Allison reports
OPERATING a high input autumn-calving herd, together with a New Zealand grass-based system is allowing one unit to expand cow numbers and maintain profitability.
Four years ago, three herds of 130 cows each on the Bisterne Farms estate, Ringwood, were amalgamated on one site to cut costs, said farm manager Andrew Galloway.
"Feed costs were high, as silage was being transported from one set of clamps to the different units.
"A decision was made to stay in dairying and invest in a new unit with a rotary parlour." He chose this parlour because he believed the herd had to continue growing to maintain profitability (see table), possibly reaching 1000 cows within 10 years.
"The only way to efficiently milk this number of cows is with a rotary parlour. Once a herd expands beyond 350 cows, herringbone parlours cant cope with the workload."
While visiting relatives in New Zealand, Mr Galloway saw a rotary parlour in action and was so impressed, he bought one. It was imported and two fitters were flown to the UK to install it.
"The 50-point rotary parlour alone cost £118,000, with concreting carried out by farm staff. Costs were kept low by keeping it simple with no automatic cluster removal or electronic individual cow recording."
It has only one feeder which dispenses a fixed amount of cake as the stalls revolve under the chute. But having a dump line fitted was essential with a rotary parlour, he said.
More than 200 cows can now be milked each hour, with one revolution every 10 minutes. But some cows remained on the unit for a second revolution to obtain a second helping of cake.
"The parlour allows more than 400 cows to be managed by two full-time staff. Total farm staff requirements have reduced from nine to 5.5. These staff cost savings alone will pay for the new parlour and 350-place cubicle building within 5-10 years," said Mr Galloway.
To allow further expansion, the herd was managed with separate spring and autumn calving groups, said the herdsman, LKL subcontractor, Richard Stirman. "Cubicle numbers restrict the size of the autumn calving group. So 150 cows calve in spring. This also provides a comparison of costs, to help future policy decisions."
This year, with low milk prices, the spring calving herd was proving most profitable. There was less slurry to move, no bedding costs and fewer overheads because they were housed at one old unit when dry with self-feed silage, said Mr Stirman.
Spring calving cows are outside grazing as soon as ground conditions permit, achieving 53% of milk from forage. But good grass growing years are essential, as Mr Galloway admitted it was not an ideal grass growing area with free draining land on gravel.
"Grass shortages can occur in July and August when cows are buffer fed maize silage.
"Autumn calving cows are moved to about 120ha (300 acres) of river meadows when dry in summer to reduce stocking pressure during these low grass months."
Irrigation is also an option, using equipment from the arable enterprise. "There is no reason why irrigation cannot have a cost-effective role; New Zealand producers often irrigate grassland and are profitable with milk prices at 9p/litre."
Both cow groups have different breeding policies. Holstein genetics are used for the high input autumn herd to push for yield, while New Zealand Friesian semen is used for the high forage herd. He believed Holsteins could not cope with grass-based system.
But breeding policy has recently changed for the autumn herd with more emphasis on increasing butterfat %, he said.
Low milk fat % was a problem last winter when feeding a ration with maize silage as the sole forage, said independent nutritionist Martin Attwell. "Milk fat fell to less than 3.5% in January.
"Milk fat increased to 3.75% with the inclusion of pea straw and chopped wheat straw in the ration at 1.5kg a cow. Low milk fat should be less of a problem this year with surplus grass being ensiled and moving to a white water milk contract."
Rations also contained brewers grains, which was not ideal for maximising milk fat %, but it was a cheap feed from the local Ringwood Brewery, he added. *
2001/2002 2002/2003 2003/2004
Milk output (litres) 2.6m 3m 3.6m
Income (p/litre) 20.87 19.43 9.00
Costs* (p/litre) 17.23 15.03 13.99
Comparable farm profit* (p/litre) 3.64 4.4 5.01
*Excludes rent, finance and quota.
There was no reason why irrigation of grassland could not have a cost-effective role in drier years, said Andrew Galloway.
A rotary parlour is the best option when expanding towards 1000 cows.