30 June 2000

Less yield, but more profit

Comparable farm profit

figures for the past four

years have convinced one

Shrops milk producer that

giving up his aims of an

8000-litre a cow yield was

a profitable decision.

Jessica Buss reports

MOUNT Farms milk production costs before rent and finance were 22.7p/litre in 1997, but by April this year they fell to just 12.4p/litre.

Roly Tavernor explains that in 1997 average yield for the 210-cow herd was approaching 8000 litres. "We were convinced that a higher yield meant a bigger profit."

At that time, Roly and Mary Tavernor had been at Mount Farm, near Market Drayton for just four years and were still learning the farms strengths and weaknesses.

Cows were run on a traditional system, housed from mid-October to mid-April, and buffer fed in summer. Maize was grown to help increase cow yields, with the area peaking at 24ha (60 acres). Feed costs were high, at 6.2p/litre, and there were additional costs of straw and feeding out with cows kept in yards for a long winter period.

When first persuaded to attend a meeting with visiting New Zealand consultant Mark Blackwell, Mr Tavernor had no intention of extending the grazing period. His aim was to improve summer grass use.

But in order to improve summer grazing he realised that the 120ha (300-acre) farms 12ha (30-acre) fields were too large for good grazing management. "We took on board the need to reduce field size, so we bought a good electric fencer which would keep stock in. Fields were reduced to 10 acres. The following spring we noticed an improvement in performance. But in our minds we were still chasing yields and were feeding a lot of maize silage in summer."

He believes that if Mark Blackwell had not been followed by other New Zealand-trained consultants, the farms profit would be much lower today (see table). He attended a series of meetings with Paul Bird for one year and for the past 18 months has attended meetings with Carol Gibson as a member of two discussion groups. Both consultants have received MDC funding.

"It is hard to unlearn some old ways, and you must mix with positive people who will tell each other what they think."

These groups have given Mr Tavernor the confidence and information he needed to develop a system with lower costs, especially for feed, which has reduced to 1.2p/litre.

"If we present cows with a good quantity of quality grass there is no reason to feed anything else."

This years feed bill at Mount Farm will be £60,000 lower than in 1997. But savings on feed are not at the expense of total milk output which has reduced little through increasing cow numbers by 30 to 240, says Mr Tavernor.

Yields are now about 6000 litres a cow, but are not monitored, except by the parlour computer, which identifies higher yielding cows for concentrate feeding. Cows giving above 40 litres are fed a maximum of 4kg a day, he adds.

Splitting fields and altering grazing management has led to improved profits for Roly Tavernor. Heifers now graze the best grass ahead of cows.

REDUCINGCOSTS

&#8226 Stop monitoring yields.

&#8226 Monitor profit closely.

&#8226 Graze cows more.

Comparable farm profit

figures (p/litre)

97 98 99 00

Costs* 22.7 19.8 14.8 12.4

CFP* 5.15 4.19 6.81 7.7

*These figures do not include rent, finance or quota leasing.