24 October 1997

Mill and mix to cut costs

Home milling and mixing will

cut feed costs by £35/t

on one Worcs farm.

Emma Penny reports

LOWER cereal prices and increased need to watch costs prompted Worcs-based Charo-lais breeders Barry and Jarmila Robinson to start milling and mixing on farm this autumn.

The Robinsons run 120 pedigree breeding females and 600 Scotch Mule cross Bleu du Maine ewes at Lodge Farm, Rochford, Tenbury Wells, and also grow about 195ha (480 acres) of cereals.

"Like everyone we have to watch our costs, so it seems wise to use as much home-grown feed as possible," says Mr Robinson.

Mrs Robinson points out that while barley – which makes up about half the ration – costs considerably less than it did a year ago, the price of compound feed has not dropped proportionately.

Local merchant

In the past, cereals were sold off the farm to a local merchant who then mixed a ration according to the Robinsons requirements.

But this year a mill-and-mix plant, with a throughput of 1t/hour, has been installed at Lodge Farm. Though some producers might consider that expensive, Mr Robinson prudently compared new and second-hand costs and found a second-hand mill for only £3500 including augers and silos.

"A new mill-and-mix plant would have cost about £15,000 complete, so the second-hand option is a substantial saving. Labour for installation will add a further £1000 to costs, but that would have been the same for a new plant."

With the new mill almost ready to run, ration formulation is the next task, which falls to ADAS nutritionist Kate Phillips.

"In the past, cattle on the farm have been fed a high quality ration designed for maximum performance. Concentrate is offered to the bulls, heifers and calves to ensure good growth," she says.

The Robinsons expect all calves to have a liveweight gain of 2kg a day to 100 days old, with bulls achieving a minimum of 1.5kg a day over the first 200 days. At 400 days, bulls must be 10% over the breeds average weight, while heifers must be 20% over the standard. These targets are set to ensure fast herd growth is maintained.

"Heifers are grown more slowly after weaning so they do not become over-fat, and we look for a gain of 0.8-1kg a day between six and 12 months old," says Mrs Robinson.

Achieving demanding targets means correct ration formulation is vital. According to Mrs Phillips the previous ration, providing 12.5-13ME and with a protein of 16%, would be described as luxurious by commercial finishers. "This was based on barley, oats, sugar beet pulp, linseed and flaked maize."

While the basic mix used on the farm – without linseed or flaked maize – would cost about £145/t to buy, Mrs Phillips believes the Robinsons could mix it on farm for about £110/t, using their own cereals and buying in some straights to maintain protein and ME levels.

"The basic home-mixed ration will probably comprise about 50% rolled barley, with 10-20% sugar beet pulp for energy and digestible fibre, and because it is good value. About 2.5-5% molasses will be included as a sweetener and to stick to mix together, also reducing dust."

The Robinsons and Mrs Phillips are still considering which straights to buy. Although the mix will probably contain about 30% maize gluten, the high cost of soya is forcing consideration of alternatives.

"Ground nut pellets are worth considering, and we may also add some fishmeal or a protected protein such as Soypass to rations for bulls and calves."

As the mill-and-mix plant is equipped with a hammer mill, Mr Robinson is considering buying peas to reduce ration costs. "I am also keen to grow more protein on the farm. We are growing lupins this year and are also hoping to grow soya."

Minerals are a vital component, particularly with increased use of home-grown cereals, says Mrs Phillips. "The farm is deficient in cobalt and selenium, so it is important to ensure cattle receive adequate levels, particularly bulls."

The sheep flock is likely to receive a ration based on the same ingredients as the cattle mix, and this will be formulated after the Robinsons decide whether to feed the ewes maize or grass silage, or hay.

Despite the move to on-farm mixing, Mr Robinson does not envisage greater labour costs, as most work will be during the winter, when the farms arable staff have less to do.

Feeding fresh concentrate is important, he says, particularly for creep feed. That means a maximum of 1t of concentrate will be milled and mixed. "Once mixed, it will be stored in sealed 1t bags or in semi-recyclable paper bags, which will make transport to the other farm, where cows and calves overwinter, easier."

Availability of ad lib creep means calves often have high intakes, and Mr Robinson hopes to restrict it a little this year to about 4kg a head a day.

"Heifers will receive about 2kg concentrate a head a day, and finishing bulls – those unsuited for breeding – up to 4kg a head a day. Pedigree bulls will receive about 2% of their bodyweight a day in concentrate, depending on forage quality."

A desire for high growth rates means ration formulation for the pedigree Charolais herd is vital. A mix based on home-grown cereals – and some home produced protein – will replace the current bought-in mix (inset).

Installation of a second-hand mill- and-mix plant will save Worcs producer Barry Robinson up to £35/t, according to his ADAS nutritionist Kate Phillips.

HOME-MIX BENEFITS

&#8226 Saves £35/t.

&#8226 Second-hand plant.

&#8226 Good use of home-grown cereals.

POTENTIAL MIXES

&#8226 £109/t, 12.7 MJ/kg ME, 16% protein

42.5% barley, 30% maize gluten, 5% molasses, 10% Hi-pro soya, 10% sugar beet pulp, 2.5% minerals.

&#8226 £110/t, 12.7 MJ/kg ME, 16% protein

50% barley, 17.5% maize gluten, 5% molasses, 12.5% Hi-pro soya, 12.5% sugar beet pulp, 2.5% minerals.