A high margin/litre is the
key focus for one producer
growing as much cow feed
as possible on the farm.
Jeremy Hunt reports
GROWING as much as possible on farm and having as few wagons as possible coming in the yard is one Cumbrian milk producers plan for cutting production costs.
Mark and Helen Towers dairy enterprise, at Colt Park, Aldingham, Ulverston, is based on a good grassland belt on the south-west Cumbria coast. In addition to 162ha (400 acres) of grass, 41ha (100 acres) of wheat and maize are grown.
Ensuring a high grass forage intake combined within a straights-based diet – including home-grown wheat and maize, is unlocking the full performance potential of the Towers Aldingham pedigree Holstein herd. But high performance is not to the detriment of margin a litre, which currently stands at almost 17p.
While the mild climate is ideal for growing grass, a heavy rainfall of at least 125cm (50in) can be a big handicap.
"With the right weather we could turn cows out in late March, but its usually late April," says Mr Towers who has about 190 cows milking, although numbers are on the way down.
"The plan is to push yields a bit higher and keep less cows on a system that is as self-sufficient as we can get it. Herd average is 8000kg at 4.05% fat and 3.3% protein, but the best heifers are giving over 10,000kg.
A tour of Holstein herds in Canada in the mid-1980s made a significant impact on the Aldingham herd. Not only in its breeding policy – Mr Towers says he threw away every straw of Holstein-Friesian semen when he came home – but also on feeding.
"We switched to a straights-based system and couldnt believe the difference in overall cow performance and savings on feed costs. It was clearly the right way to feed these cattle," says Mr Towers.
He started using a mixer-wagon and extra rented acres provided the opportunity to start growing wheat. "When the milk price was good, and even though we may not have been among the top yielding herds, we were only a few pounds behind them on margin."
A wheat yield of 9.6t/ha (4t/acre) from 18ha (44 acres) drilled has provided an important constituent of the complete diet. Wheat is caustic treated as part of a simple pre-mix ration. Total ration cost is £92/t.
The mix meets two-thirds of the cows concentrate intake and comprises 50% wheat, 30% gluten and 20% soya plus minerals. Molasses is added with Vitagold and the forage inclusion is one-third maize and two-thirds grass.
"We want a high overall dry matter inclusion – around 40% – and want cows to eat 60kg of mix a day. We are feeding for 24 litres outside and topping up with concentrate in the parlour. I am not milk-record driven, I am profit driven."
Mr Towers maintains that getting the maximum amount of milk from forage has never been more important. Last year, 48% of production was from grass and maize. But tackling energy deficits in early lactation is now a management priority.
"Thats where we can still improve and achieve a lift in yield. We plan to look closely at energy intakes in freshly-calved cows, with the aim of increasing diet efficiency and fully exploiting the cows genetic potential. We need to lift yield by 10%, which will enable us to reduce numbers to about 145 milking cattle, without affecting overall output."
The herds Milkminder dairy costings show it has been the highest Cumbria herd on margin a litre for the last five years. The current figure is 16.97p a litre on a 12-month rolling average,.
"The margin per litre figure is a mainstay that we should never lose sight of in a quota situation. Its the limiting factor. Every litre I produce has got to have the highest possible level of profit on it." The herd was receiving 18.34p a litre for its milk in February.
GETTING the best out of a feeding regime based on high forage intakes requires the right sort of cow to do it, explains Mark Towers.
"I need a deep-ribbed cow with plenty of capacity to cope with a high forage intake, but I dont want a herd of 64in cows.
"And I certainly dont want smaller-type, tight-ribbed heifers giving huge yields in their first lactation and only able to perform off high levels of concentrates."
Mr Towers dismisses any criticism of extremeness in todays Holstein and believes that the commercial milk producer has geared himself up to cope with this modern dairy animal.
"Hes totally overhauled his management in the last five years. Hes learned a lot about getting the best out of these cows. He now demands hard-working functional cows with rib, a dairy-frame, good legs but not coarse-boned and with texture in the udder.
"Buyers used to want a 22-litre heifer, now its a 30-litre heifer and ideally shell be out of a 10,000 litre cow. Commercial milk producers have upped their spec. If you can provide them with a VG89 two-year-old that did 8000 litres as a heifer you are in the market."
Mr Towers believes that provided enough thought is given to breeding cows with conformation traits to cope with the rigours of modern milk production, longevity should not be an issue.
"Weve got a pure-Canadian cow that has gone Excellent for the fourth time at 12-years-old and is still giving 10,000 litres. Shes never had any special treatment, shes just part of the main herd. They can do it.
"My aim is to have a herd thats capable of 11,000 litres but one that can produce 9000 litres at a higher profit from a high forage intake system. Perhaps that potential may increase to 12,000 litres and then Id be happy to get 10,000 litres but they will be the most profitable 10,000 litres those cows are capable of producing." *
• High forage intakes.
• Simple pre-mix.
• Aim for high margin/litre.
• Need high capacity.
• Long lifespan achieveable.
• Management overhauled.