MAKING MOST OUT OF GRASS
THE high cost of leasing or buying milk quota will make many producers take a hard look at the way they utilise forage.
This is the view of Dyfed producer Lionel Phillips, who has around 100,000 litres less quota than he needs for the 140-cow herd he runs with his wife Peg and son John. In the last milk marketing year they were forced to pay 11p/litre to lease, an unacceptable charge to set against a margin over purchased feeds of 17p/litre.
"Of course it looks better when spread over our total 798,000-litre production, but, if leasing is expensive again this year, we will have to consider buying in the hope that quotas will continue after the year 2000," he said.
However the extra quota needed is obtained, Mr Phillips, current chairman of Pembrokeshire NFU, believes that they must try to offset the cost by producing milk more efficiently. At Great Molleston, Narberth, that means making even greater use of grazed and conserved forage. This will not be easy because the 5700-litre herd average is already produced using only 0.2kg of concentrate/litre.
Options include pepping up some of the permanent pasture that is the grazing mainstay. But this might not be cost effective, and would disrupt the grazing pattern on the 141.42ha (250 acres), which is split into two blocks and carries the milkers, 90 followers, 110 other cattle and 12ha (30 acres) of spring barley.
Having recently seen the way the Irish are extending the grazing season, Mr Phillips would like to follow suit. But he knows that severe poaching would be inevitable, and total production could fall.
"We make quite good silage with an ME of about 11 and 25% dry matter, but there is scope for improvement," he said. "A balance has to be struck between quality and overall quantity, but we will try to improve silage fed to the dairy herd."
Membership of the local machinery ring is providing access to higher capacity foragers, extra trailers and labour. This will allow grass to be cut as close as possible to the optimum stage of growth, and ensiled quickly.
Margins might also be improved by going for higher payments by raising total milk protein production, so bulls are selected with this in mind. Genetic potential for high yield is less important than good feet and the ability to use a lot of forage.
Calving, which currently takes place between July and Christmas, is being extended into January in anticipation of Milk Marque paying premiums to get greater continuity of supplies. The change will also allow more advantage to be taken of early grazing.
Trying to make even better use of forage means that the partners will continue to take upland ewes on tack between Nov 1 and the end of February. "The 200 sheep need little input from us, but they do an excellent job tidying up the grassland, and provide an income of £10/head. Grass is the greatest asset we have in this part of the UK. As our costs rise we must find ways of using it even more efficiently."