11 August 1995

Feed straights in drought year urges expert

By Sue Rider

DAIRY farmers must forget performance yardsticks such as margin a litre and milk from forage as the drought puts pressure on forage stocks.

The warning comes from Cornwall-based ADAS dairy business consultant Stephen Brooks.

He advises those producers faced with a forage shortfall to maximise margin over total feed of both cows and heifers. The key was to use straights to substitute forage. "Profits in a drought year are maintained by raising yield and heavy straights feeding," he says.

"Even at 12.5p a litre, quota leasing should be unlimited in a drought year."

Feeding 3kg of the cheapest straights or cake to raise yield by three litres a day could save 7kg of silage a cow a day. For 100 cows that is 700kg of silage a day or 150t for the next seven months worth £4500.

Mr Brooks reasons this would provide enough silage to feed an average number of replacements.

At an average milk price of 24.5p a litre, and leasing at 12.5p, the cost of the straights (12p) was covered. Substituted silage could be fed to all youngstock at nil charge – so safeguarding margin over total feed and profit, he says.

Another route to maintaining forage stocks would be to sell cull cows. Mr Brooks says it is possible to reduce herd size by 5% before compromising next years progress. But that five cows less would only save £1500 silage versus £4500 worth by raising yield.

"These cows will only make £400-500 a head and offer limited if any reduction in fixed costs," he says.

Another priority was to slash cake costs. "It is possible to feed 25% more of a cake that is £30/t less expensive," he says. "It is not good business in a drought year to produce 4000 litres from non-existent forage with a £200/t cake."

Premium prices

Mr Brooks also warns that straw and forage in a drought year attract premium prices, and cheaper feeds are found among straights.

The advice is echoed by Luppo Diepenbroek of Mole Valley Farmers. He says many first-cut silage swards have averaged little more than 2.5t dry matter an acre in the clamp (10t 25% DM silage), second cuts on some poor land no more than 0.36t DM/acre (1.5t 25% DM silage). He says this forage would have cost over £110/t DM to produce compared with maize gluten at £125/t DM.

lFor more winter feeding advice, see our special focus, p42.