12 March 1999

French research helps save £85 a cow on Somerset unit

PUTTING French research into practice has paid off, saving more than £85 a cow in concentrate costs, according to Somerset milk producer Richard Roberts.

Faced with a drop in milk price, and three families to support from his 80ha (200-acre) Bussex Farm, Bridgwater, and little chance to lower overheads, he decided the answer was to improve cow performance.

Maize had been grown at Bussex Farm since 1989 and the acreage had increased to 20ha (50 acres). Extending the grazing season is not feasible because the farms location on the Somerset Levels means it is flooded in winter.

Two years ago, Mr Roberts learned of the French low cost production research project, producing 7000 litres from 600kg of concentrate. Researchers achieved this by maximising use of grazing in summer and feeding maize silage in winter.

They fed low levels of concentrate, challenging high merit cows to milk from forage. But the ration crude protein level was only 14.5%, much lower than is recommended in the UK, said Mr Roberts.

In effect researchers were holding back yields and avoiding poor fertility with low protein rations, he explained.

He decided to adopt the system and saved 1.5p/litre on feed costs between August 1997 and 1998. Yields rose and milk from forage was 1400 litres higher, saving £7000 worth of concentrate for the 80-cow herd.

"But, last winter maize silage quality was poorer because wet weather delayed drilling and, therefore, harvest. Cheap cereals were used to supplement the maizes low starch levels and low wheat prices mean margins have not suffered," he said.

Mr Roberts believed that production system could work on many UK farms. "It is simple, repeatable and profitable."