ITS NOT ALL BAD NEWS…
Thinking positively in times of falling milk prices is not easy. But thats what producers who want to stay in business and have a good lifestyle must do to survive.
Some, as revealed in this Update, have looked for positive ways to improve profit and their efforts of the last year are beginning to pay off. Many of these successful producers are finding improving grass management is worthwhile, but they are also basing plans on simplicity and reducing labour.
But making a plan, and costing it out carefully, is probably more important than the direction chosen – be it high forage, high yield, minimal investment or added value. Then its vital to carry out plans with positive enthusiasm and confidence.
When this seems too tough, another option is to plan your way out. Most businessmen in other professions plan for retirement, something many producers are poor at. Paying into a pension should be a top priority, however young you are, according to one producer.
But there are many positive things happening within the industry: Improving herds at lower cost using DIY ET will be possible – with further promises of sexed embryos later this year; exports for UK genetics have opened up with sales of UK semen into Europe; and MDCs technology transfer programme should help access research results coming through. It is certainly not all bad news for those willing to fight for a prosperous future.
REPORTS FROM THE SHARP END…
The real world of dairy
farming is reflected in the
experiences of our
contributors. Heres the
latest news from our four
busy producers. Their
reports are from Berkshire,
Stephen Brandon farms
100ha (250 acres) at New
Buildings Farm, Stafford, in
a ring fence, with another
30ha (73 acres) of grazing
taken annually five miles
away. He has 170 pedigree
Holstein Friesians and 110
dairy replacements. About
28ha (70 acres) of cereals
are grown each year
GRASSLAND management is always a great challenge, with the weather keeping it interesting. Currently our biggest challenge, with plenty of silage already in the clamp, is to provide cows with plenty of quality grazing throughout the summer.
But with excessive nitrogen use we will end up making more silage and incurring extra contractor charges. The situation is made worse writing this column, with all my sceptics waiting for things to go wrong. It would be hell if I had to start buffer feeding.
The big pay back is low cost feed for cows when we get it right. If you are interested in margin over concentrate a litre, Junes margin here is the same as the milk price.
A couple of months ago I mentioned our milking parlour and its poor throughput, since then we have been looking into the possibility of changing it after only five years in action.
As you would expect the cost is fairly horrendous and we may have to resort to plan B, which is to make the existing 20:20 into a 24:24. The pit is already long enough for the extra units. But throughput will only increase marginally, so am I throwing good money after bad? Plan A is to do some building modifications at the entrance and exit to help improve cow flow.
When cows are only fed grass, automatic milk recording is of less value. I am not particularly interested in individual cow yields any more and the computer isnt needed to work out individual concentrate requirements. The best and cheapest milk meter is the bulk tank, that soon tells you if you have got grazing right.
Following on from this, I have changed to alternate month milk recording to reduce costs. Its very rare I stop to look at milk records. If we keep the existing parlour the milk meters can continue to record milk yields, so we shall only be missing some fat, protein and cell count tests. *
John Round farms 134ha
(330 acres) in the
Gloucestershire Severn Vale.
It is home to his 180-cow
Roundelm herd of Holstein
Friesians and 180 followers.
Cows average 10,000 litres
on twice-a-day milking. Maize
and cereals are also grown
AFTER reading this months contribution you will realise I awoke this morning with a headache, sore throat and no hangover, feeling rather sorry for myself.
But it is not my health that is depressing, rather the overall mess our industry is getting into.
On July 1, Dairy Crest knocked another 0.25p off our groups milk price, for the simple reason that they could, there is no other reason. They could not go abroad to find farm-assured milk within 20 miles of their factory.
Apart from moan and complain, we as an industry seem to do little together to change things for the better and are still fighting the dairy companies rather than working alongside them.
I pay the MDC £1000 a year to advise me on how to extend my grazing season and spot cows on heat. If their advice was how to sustain yields of 15,000kg over six lactations with high genetic merit cows I might be interested.
In recent years there has been much talk of advertising milk, but still no action. It is about time working dairy farmers, rather than retired bureaucrats protecting pensions, were allowed to use our money how we want to. Expanding the market for our product, milk, through advertising, promotion and education.
Among the public it is a common myth that milk is high in fat. How many attractive women with bodies to die for will tell you they only use semi-skimmed, as full fat is bad for you? You have got more chance of getting them into bed than into believing the difference is 2% fat to a staggering 4%.
Another of my hang-ups at present is our vet medicine cost. The current system ensures we pay more than our contemporaries in Ireland and mainland Europe. Hardly fair trade when market forces dictate our end prices and bureaucracy dictates our inputs.
MAFF, the Royal College of Vet Surgeons and drug companies may have a great influence on the government. But as dairy farmers, we should pressurise for deregulation of medicine supply, so we have a chance of competing. *
George Holmes farms with
his brother David, on two
rented units totalling 144ha
(360 acres) in Sussex. They
are currently stocked with
145 dairy cows, block
calved in the autumn and
100 followers. His objective
is to decrease costs,
particularly by increasing
use of grazed grass
WEVE suddenly got to prepare for a farm walk in mid-July, because as winners of the Sussex Grass and Forage Societys Buckhurst Trophy we are now to host the winners walk.
It is judged on overall forage management and production. Our success was based both on our overall grassland and forage management, and our current management figures for the herd. To the end of June these are an annual average yield of 6800 litres a cow at 4.15% fat and 3.53% protein, concentrate use of 1.2t/cow for the last 12 months and milk from forage of 4300 litres a cow.
These figures, while pleasing, are only a part of whats needed to be profitable, and we need to continue improving other areas.
I have recently been analysing herd culling and fertility. We have 77% of cows due to calve in six weeks, our target is 82%. The survival rate of heifer calves through to their second calving will struggle to beat 70% of this years milking heifers, when our target is 80%. And I estimate that our empty rate will be 7%, above our 3% target.
In addition, our vet bill was unacceptable at £60/cow in the year ending September 1998, although it will be considerably lower this year. I am confident that introducing New Zealand Friesian bloodlines, proven for high survival, will improve these figures, while continuing to increase our herd genetic index from our current herd average of £60 PIN.
We have finally started to use the farm well to provide drinking water for cows, something that we have planned for the last two years. For a capital outlay of around £1000, we should save at least £1000 a year. In future, we can save even more by connecting up the remaining water troughs in fields which are on a couple of different meter supplies.
My only concern is that well water has a fairly high iron content and we may have to install an expensive filter to remove it. Local farmers who use their own water supply with similar iron contents seem to have varying views on the need for filtering. *
Mark Osman is herd
manager for the 300ha(750-
acre) Berks farm owned by
Zeneca. It is two-thirds
owned, and 154ha (380
acres) is cropped with 117ha
(290 acres) of grass and
12ha (30 acres) of maize.
Stocking is 150 Friesian
Holstein cows, 100 finished
beef, 80 replacements and
330 ewe lambs
DRYING off autumn calving cows has begun this week and we have decided to treat all cows with antibiotics, even though it may go against our cost-cutting principles.
If we cannot produce clean milk we will lose the extra milk income from being in the top bands for cell counts and bactoscans, and through mastitis. If our current low incidence of mastitis, both clinical and sub-clinical, rises it will add to production costs.
The cows we didnt treat with antibiotics last year were 20% more likely to have cell counts over 200 within a 305-day lactation, than if we treated them.
At this time of year, we usually sit down to discuss what went well and pin-point areas that didnt and could be improved on. Dry cow management springs to mind as a problem area.
Last year the autumn group calved outside on grass. This was an improvement on calving indoors with fewer calving problems and less metabolic disorders. I thought it would mean less labour, but in fact it used just as much.
The time saved in bedding up and feeding housed cattle, equalled the time spent chasing calves around paddocks. I must admit the herdsmen, Peter and Brett, adopted some interesting tactics to ensure capture.
Every time I mention calving outside again the conversation always comes back to a quad-bike and trailer. However, this stopped when I located a very old three-wheeled tipper in the back of a shed. They dont seem very keen on it.
Cows have gone on milking well, but condition on spring calvers is dropping. I think this is due to two reasons – most are in-calf and are partitioning energy to the foetus and variation in grass dry matter over the last six weeks.
When dry matter changes from 18% to 14% it equates to a reduction of 20% plus in dry matter intake a day. Two years ago we measured dry matter of fresh grass as cows entered each paddock, the variation was from 14% up to 26% thoughout the season.
If we could analyse grass DM as cows enter a paddock, we could alter concentrate or forage to compensate for wetter grass. *