21 March 1997

More from forage is answer

MORE milk from forage is the route to countering lower milk prices on one Devon unit.

Mark Pilkington runs 80 cows averaging 5900 litres at 57ha (140-acre) Ullacombe Farm, Bovey Tracey, Newton Abbot. He stands to loose at least £120 a cow when his milk price drops by 2p/litre from April.

Recouping that loss means improving technical efficiency and controlling overheads.

Although use of contractors for silaging reduces labour and machinery costs, he will try to cut contractor charges further and give greater scrutiny to electricity costs.

On the advice of his consultant, Tony Evans, of farm business consultancy Andersons, Mr Pilkington seeks to improve milk from forage, currently at 3138 litres, to about 4000 litres.

"Producing an extra 862 litres from forage will save 450kg of concentrates a cow, which, at £156/t, is a saving of £70 a cow," says Mr Evans. But as well as producing more milk from forage the aim is to ensure forage is produced as cheaply as possible.

That means making better use of grazed grass, and they may consider spring calving to match peak milk with peak grass growth.

"A small proportion of the herd calves in spring already and we are monitoring the profitability of these cows before we go down that route for the whole herd," says Mr Pilkington.

Better use of grass will also be achieved by extending the grazing season. "Our cows went out this week, a month earlier than last year to try to extend the season," he says. By keeping the cows out on grazed grass one month longer last winter as well he saved 50t less silage, worth £750-£1000.

The desire to secure milk from the cheapest forage possible also influenced Mr Pilkingtons decision not to grow maize this year.

"We are on relatively marginal land for maize and the yields we get do not justify the cost of about £80-£90/t DM compared with £60-65/t DM for grass silage."

"We are looking to feed sieved maize gluten in the parlour instead of proprietary compound to reduce the price from £250 to £110/t, so saving £35-£40/t or a cow given our feed rate of 1t a cow,"he says.

He will also consider milk recording to ensure he is getting top hygiene payments for milk.

– worth an extra 0.6p/litre – and so he can better identify top producing cows from which to breed.

More milk from forage, including grazed grass will help reduce costs, says Andersons consultant Tony Evans.