22 March 1996


By Jeremy Hunt

MID-WINTER costings for the 320-cow flying herd at Red Earth Farm, Rudyard, Leek show the margin over purchased feed to have increased from £1069 to £1432 and margin a litre to have risen from 18.03 to 20.97p/litrel. Overall output has lifted by 130,000 litres to give a herd average of 6847kg even though concentrates use for the herd was slashed by 20 tonnes.

The herd is run by Jim and Gill Heath and their son Stuart on hill land running from 152-305m (500-1000ft).

"In the last year we have seen cow margins improve by £190 a cow after milk price increases; average yields have gone up by 700 litres despite lower concentrate input and our margin per litre has risen by 3p," says Stuart Heath.

It was a different story 18 months ago. Poor quality silage and other contributory factors had led to a drop in the herds average to around 5700kg. But the decision to start feeding cows outside the parlour triggered the upturn.

"We started to feed 2kg of an 18% coarse dairy ration with the silage and saw an immediate improvement in yield. We have always used a top of the range 20% protein cake but were having problems getting much over 9kg a time into our high yielders.

"We were asking too much of the silage and cows just werent performing to potential," says Mr Heath.

A shortage of silage this winter has seen 4kg of brewers grains fed each day to all cows plus an out-of-parlour feed of 2.5-3kg of a 50% Hipro soya blended ration supplied by NWF Agriculture. Blend components include maize distillers grain, cooked cereals, sugar beet and wheat distillers grain.

The silage – around 40-50kg/cow/day – plus the grains and blend is fed outside the parlour to achieve 14 litres of milk. "This gives us the scope to feed 0.4kg a litre of the 20% concentrate to every cow up to a maximum of 9kg and provides us with flexibility and efficiency of rationing."

NWF Agricultures Stuart Harvey says the herds approach to rationing is a perfect example of how commercial dairy farmers must look towards exploiting the full genetic potential of the modern milking cow.

"Its either hanging a transponder around their neck and opting for out-of-parlour feeders, three times a day milking or introducing the subtle changes we have seen at Red Earth Farm.

"This is by far the most cost effective option and has undoubtedly achieved the desired effect," said Mr Harvey.

The Heath familys system is geared to running a flying herd. A source of "top quality replacements" now supplies 40-50 in-calf heifers each year which are topped up to about 70. All cows are put to Belgian Blue bulls and the calves sold at a fortnight old through Cheshires Chelford market.

The herd is mainly summer calving from mid-June to mid August and is split between two adjacent holdings with Red Earth Farm carrying 220 head and the remainder run at the neighbouring 49ha (121-acre) Fould Farm. All cows are buffer fed with first cut silage from July onwards.

Dry cows are grazed outside all the year round running on to top ground at 305m (1000ft). As the weather deteriorates dry cows are moved on to lower land and by winter are moved again to a block of land owned by the family but lying away from the main holdings.

This "banky" grazing carries the cows until it becomes too wet after which they are moved to drier land with access to a cubicle shed and fed silage and straw. &#42

&#8226 800-litre yield boost in 12 months.

&#8226 Margins up by over £360 a cow.

&#8226 Reduced cow numbers and concentrate use.


Staffs producer Jim Heath has increased margins by over £360 a cow through improved use of forage and reduced concentrates.