Know your forage to curb costs
Funding from the Milk
Development Council, as
part of its £1000 for 1000
cows initiative, has allowed
a group of 10 Welsh milk
producers to use a
consultant to assess
alternative forage crop costs.
Robert Davies reports
KNOWING the potential yields and growing costs for forage crops in the local area and the resulting animal performance is a huge advantage to producers wishing to feed cows cost-effectively.
That is why members of the West Anglesey Dairy Group decided to take advantage of MDCs offer of funding to compare alternative forages with grass silage, says senior ADAS consultant David Peers, who is co-ordinating the group.
"The study had two parts. Last year, we looked at establishment and growing costs, measured yields and calculated comparative costs/t of dry matter ensiled. Over the winter, we are assessing the forages impact on production and milk quality."
The producers involved decided that soil type and rainfall on the island meant a New Zealand-style extended grazing system was out of the question.
But they all wanted to produce above average yields from high genetic merit cows, or needed to set aside grass for ewes and lambs.
While growing interest in alternative forages provided them with plenty of technical information, they wanted to evaluate some of the crops under local conditions.
"They felt it was important to determine which crops suited their systems," says Dr Peers. The MDC offers any group which collectively has 1000 cows the opportunity to put forward a proposal for technology transfer and receive £1000 to cover the costs of their chosen consultant.
Because there was a wide variation in the way grass was conserved on group members farms, one agreed to provide detailed baseline costs for a typical two-cut system. Each producer who grew alternative crops provided costings based on using their own labour and machinery.
Data was collected on forage maize, spring barley arable silage, whole-crop winter wheat and barley/pea arable silage. One member also tried a spring-sown Italian ryegrass/stubble turnip mix for summer grazing.
Dr Peers used his knowledge of the farms to iron out anomalies and produce benchmark averages from the figures collected.
In his report, Dr Peers draws attention to other factors that can influence which crop will suit a particular farm. "Growing maize can suit an intensive dairy farm for spreading slurry, but on Anglesey the loss of winter grass could mean a significant loss of income from tack sheep. Aftermaths available after grass silage can be valuable, but these are not available after maize.
"Two members grew cereals undersown with grass and it was possible to take another grass silage cut following harvesting. This averaged about 2.4t/ha dry matter and when it was added to the yield of arable silage or whole-crop total dry matter yield was similar to two grass silage cuts."
The detailed evaluation of grass silage costs, including a share of re-seeding charges on a five-year ley, gave a figure of £41.80/t of DM. This reinforced Dr Peers opinion that grass silage is not a cheep feed, especially when it is poor quality.
The highest yielding crop in terms of DM was a spring-sown Italian ryegrass/stubble turnips mixture.
Ignoring aftermath grass growth, maize silage produced the highest yield of conserved fodder yield of 11t/ha (4.5t/acre), followed by grass silage at 10t/ha (4t/acre).
"The cost of dry matter conserved varied from £36 to £47/t. In view of the variations in yield and various estimates of costs, it is fair to conclude that not one of the conserved crops was obviously cheaper than any other."
But Dr Peers says producing an alternative crop is only part of the picture. Feeding evaluations are underway and he will publish a final report when he has information on winter feeding management and concentrate bills. *
West Anglesey forage crop costs
Maize Whole-crop Whole-crop Arable Grazed spring winter barley/ Italian/ barley wheat pea turnips
Establishment costs (£/ha)
Seed 99 52 35 52 14
Fertiliser and lime 22 72 64 49 77
Sprays 17 31 17
Labour/machinery 126 124 96 69 96
Total 265 278 213 171 187
Production costs (£/ha)
Additive 57 86 26
Harvest 99 99 77
Wrap & Carrying 91
Cutting & rowing 25
Total 193 186 103 116
Total forage cost
(£/ha) 457 465 316 286 188
t/ha 41.2 26.6 17.5 13.3 133.5
DM% 27 37 42 60 10
DM/ha 11.1 9.8 7.4 8 13
£/t of DM 41 47 43 36 14
*Figures are rounded to the nearest £.
• All costs collected.
• Grown in local conditions.
• Yields measured.