29 November 1996

New diet tackles shortfall

Under-performance among the better cows at Dowrich has led to a review of feeding policy. Tim Relf reports

FRESH calvers which, at peak production, should have been giving about 26 litres per day, are typically falling about four litres short, says Anthony Lee.

And with 110 animals in this category, the loss of daily revenue is well over £100, he reckons, basing his calculations on a milk price of 25p/litre.

"The amount received in the first half of October was nearer 27p/litre, but the anticipated rise in output may be accompanied by a slight decline in milk quality from its level of 4.64% butterfat and 3.65% protein."

So Anthony and Genus consultant Norman Ford have recently drawn up a special concentrated ration for these cows. Previously one diet was used across the whole herd.

An extra 1kg/cow/day of groundnuts are to be included. The amount of maize silage will also be increased from 10kg to 15kg/day, while bulky products, such as barley straw and urea-treated whole-crop wheat, will be cut by half. The net result is a diet with 16% crude protein and 11.2 MJ ME/kg.

On the cost side, the biggest increase is due to the groundnuts. Bought at £202/t, an additional £20-worth will be fed to the high-yielders daily.

With milk leaving Dowrich every other day, it will probably be four collections before any improvement is evident. "So watch this space," says Anthony.

A new addition to the diet is fodder beet, the first of which recently came off the field. Early indications put the yield between 75t and 86t/ha (30t and 35t/acre).

Despite having seen many farmers ditch the crop in favour of forage maize, Anthony has stuck with it, impressed by its relatively high dry matter and palatability. "Variety is important in the diet.

"The crop can stay in the field until March. So it has a far wider harvesting window than maize, which is ideally in the clamp by the end of October."

While there can be husbandry problems with the crop in its early growth – particularly weeds and pests – the variable costs are about the same as maize per tonne of dry matter, reckons Anthony.

The supply of beet has ousted potatoes from the ration.

But potatoes arent the Lees favourite subject at the moment. "With prices about £60/t, the overall reduction in revenue compared to last year could be £40,000," says Anthony.

Lower returns were expected. "But just not quite this much lower."

The full scale of the downturn became apparent when the whole-farm six-monthly review was recently completed.

It showed performance to also have been hit by the slump in revenue from cull cow and calf sales. "But at least in these areas, the prospects are looking up."

More than 10 culls have left the farm in the past fortnight, taking the November total to 17. Sold through West Midland Farmers, they have been typically netting about £450 apiece, which has helped cashflow.

And the calves – retained for fattening in the face of the depressed market earlier this year – will boost income next year when they are finished.

"Their notional cost was only between £35 and £100, because that was all such beef-bred calves were making in the spring," explains Anthony. "On top of that, they are only costing us their bed-and-breakfast."

Cautiously confident about a recovery of beef prices in the next 12 months, Anthony, and brother Christopher who tends the enterprise, reckons they could give a margin of £150/head.

Anthony Lee is a fan of fodder beet with its dry matter and palatability.

Ration for high-yielders


Grass silage25

Maize silage15

Fodder beet12

Stock molasses1.0

Ground nuts2.5

Barley straw1.0

Whole crop wheat 2.0

Sugar beet pulp1.5



&#8226 A 235ha (580-acre) family farm in mid-Devon, run by Anthony Lee, his father Michael and his brothers, Roger and Christopher.

&#8226 Dairy herd of 252 Holstein Friesians averaging 5800 litres a year.

&#8226 Outdoor pigs reared from 220 sows.

&#8226 Potatoes grown on the farm and on rented land.

&#8226 Strong emphasis on co-operative marketing.