10 May 1996


By Jessica Buss

FORAGE will be the key to maintaining profit in the likely event of weakening milk price and rising costs. But Genus regional consultant Derek Gardner cautions that the way in which this forage is fed can also affect profits. A high cost feeding system may not, he says, be the answer.

"While sunshine is free and it rains regularly in this country we have the scope to make the first 4000 litres of a cows yield from forage.

"High forage systems earn an extra £100 a cow profit," he says. It is his belief then that legumes and white clover will become crops of the future. And research on mixed forage diets has proven that these can also increase margins.

However, a Genus study of feeding systems for diets that included maize found margins on complete diet feeding were slightly lower than those on a simple feeding and compound regime (see table). The highest average margin was achieved by mixer wagons plus compounds.

But the highest yield from forage (2081 litres a cow) was from the simple feeding system. Complete diets only secured 1258 litres from forage yet milk yields were only 300 litres higher.

"Complete diets showed better yields from a lower concentrate price a tonne but feed use is out of control," says Mr Gardner. "Bought in feeds are being offered as substitutes for forage."

Complete diet feeding can allow overfeeding of concentrates by failing to block yield groups together. Concentrate losses also occur through dust at mixing and wastage in store, he claims.

There is nothing wrong with mixed diets and trough feeding but they require a higher level of management skill such as in the formulation and accurate mixing of rations. They also need extra labour and have higher machinery running costs, he adds.

He stresses that when feed costs only account for 5p a litre, and the average producer makes a profit of 4p a litre from 30p a litre income, other expenses amount to 21p a litre. Therefore control of expenses other than feed is essential to farm profit. It is the profit that pays the bills not the margin over concentrates, he reasons.

Management accounts studied show that higher yields may increase the turnover of cash but the overheads increased as fast so failed to result in extra profit.

But at the end of the day it is not profit that matters, but whats done with it. The high forage systems may make an extra £100 a cow but the real benefit of making this from your own resources is that you can choose how to spend it. &#42

Comparison of feeding regimes

Complete dietsMixer wagonSimple feeding

plus concplus conc

Milk yield (litre a cow)595658835653

Yield from forage (litres a cow)125819462081

Price (p/litre)23.423.623.2

Concentrate use (kg a cow)191716471571

Other feed (£)332515

Concentrate price (£/t)132146148

Feed cost (£ a cow)287265248

Margin (p/litre)18.619.118.8

Margin (£ a cow)110911231061

Derek Gardner:"High forage systems earn an extra £100 a cow profit."