9 August 2002

Keep costs down without going to extremes

MILK production costs can be kept down without moving to the extreme spring-calving and milk mainly from grazed grass system, dairy consultant Kay Carslaw told the conference.

Quoting some key costs from three broad systems, he showed that his clients with autumn block-calving herds on a simple self-feed system were not far behind extreme spring calving herds producing 5000 litres a cow on a 10-month grazing system in Ireland. His KC group grazed for four to eight months a year with a 35-day non-milking period and averaged 6500 litres a cow.

They were also well ahead of averages in the European Dairy Farmers (EDF) group. The latter operated fashionable confinement-type systems with up to 365-day total mixed ration feeding, little grazing and cows yielding more than 8000 litres (see table).

Mr Carslaw reckoned straw yards would add another 2p/litre to costs, assuming straw at £40 a cow.

His definition of self-feeding included 100% block-cutting done once a day on sites where self-feeding was not practical.

But his top clients on good UK autumn-calving, self-feeding units had a low labour demand of seven to 10 seconds a litre of milk sold. He admitted being surprised that this was as low or lower than the 10 seconds a litre on up-to-date Australian and New Zealand units with twice as many cows and big rotary parlours. "But it boiled down to time saved by not moving materials and cows around very much."

These results were achieved on units where two people working 48 hours a week did all the work – except silage making and slurry spreading – for 240 to 340 cows, selling 1.6m to 2.2m litres of milk a year. The system did not require a climate suitable for a long grazing season and it tended to earn a higher milk price because of its seasonal production pattern, said Mr Carslaw. &#42

Some 2001/2002 costs (p/litre)

Moorepark, Eire KC group EDF

Concentrates and minerals 1.5 3 4

Forage variables 2 1.1 2

Wintering 1 1.5 2

Feeding out 0.5 0.1 2

Total of above costs 5 6 10