18 September 1998


A HIGH output dairy herd which is fed a complete diet can keep machinery costs low on a p/litre basis, providing it is large enough and has high enough output.

The Lowry faimly at Gilwen, Newcastle Emlyn, Dyfed, aim to keep machinery costs low by producing more litres a cow from the 340-cow herd. Cows average 8000 litres and are on target to produce 8500 litres this quota year.

A complete diet has been fed for four years. Self feeding silage is not possible because a road separates cow buildings from silage clamps, explains Tony Evans, the Lowrys Andersons consultant.

Machinery costs in 1997/98 were 3.2p/litre, including depreciation. But this will reduce to 3p/litre with the predicted increase in cow yield this year.

Machinery depreciation, at 1.3p/litre, is much lower than Andersons dairy farms average of 2p/litre, because of the volume of milk sold.

Thats the reason Keith Lowry wanted to increase herd size and yield a cow. "If we had high total feeding costs at this level without high yields we could come unstuck." But producing high yields needs high genetic merit cows and good management, he adds.

Mr Evans says that high output a cow must be achieved without overfeeding expensive feeds and with good fertility results, achieved by managing cow condition. Yields from forage have increased to 3400 litres/cow over the last year using rotational grazing and higher quality silage.

Using a forage box instead of a mixer wagon would only save 0.1 p/litre on depreciation at Gilwen. It could save some labour hours, potentially worth 0.1p/litre, calculates Mr Evans.

However concentrate cost would be higher as more parlour compound would have to be fed instead of bread and maize gluten. This would cost an extra 0.5p/litre, but 0.3p/litre would be saved in forage costs because of lower silage intakes. Thus, no real saving would be made using a forage box, and it would be difficult to maintain yield/cow, Mr Evans concludes.

Machinery costs were reduced at Gilwen by replacing two tractors with one new four-wheel-drive tractor two years ago. Four-wheel-drive is needed for safety on the farms steep hills, explains Mr Lowry. This tractor will now be replaced regularly.

"We reduced the need for a tractor by using contractors for silaging. Silage quality has also improved because it now takes days, instead of weeks, to complete," he says.

"Our old tractors were always breaking down and needing major repairs, but the new tractor hasnt needed any repairs."

Now there are just three other tractors on the farm – for the mixer wagon, in the calf shed and a scraper – all worth very little, and a JCB loader. A quad bike is also used.

Depreciation on the £80,000-worth of farm machinery is £22,000 a year. To keep the value of machinery the same and ensure repair bills are kept low £25000 a year, or 1p/litre of output, is budgeted for machinery replacements, adds Mr Evans.

The JCB loader will be next to be replaced in about 18 months. This year the machinery replacement budget is being spent on automated scrapers and new cubicles to save on scraping out and improve cow comfort. &#42

Production costs 1997/98

Gilwen Ullacombe Andersons

p/litre p/litre Av p/litre

Variable costs

Concentrates 3.5 3.4 3.2

Vet 0.6 0.5 0.7

Forage 2.0 1.8 2.4

Other 1.4 1.1 1.6

TOTAL VCs 7.5 6.8 7.9

Overhead costs

Labour 3.0 2.5 3.0

Power/mach 1.9 2.8 2.4

Mach depr 1.3 0.8 2.0

Sundries 1.2 1.5 1.5

Property charges 1.3 1.8 1.5

Total OHs 7.9 9.4 10.4

Total costs* 15.4 16.2 18.3

* Before rent, finance and quota


&#8226 Costs spread by output.

&#8226 Herd size high enough.

&#8226 Alternative system wont improve profit.