11 September 1998

NZ approach means we rule the cows, they dont rule us

Hello profits, goodbye

margins was the title of a

British Grassland Society

conference and farm walk in

Cumbria. Jeremy Hunt reports

PEMBROKESHIRE dairy producer Richard John is on the verge of reaping almost a 30% increase in profit a litre of milk produced, predicted to rise to 10.8p/litre next year.

Giving top priority to the value of grazed grass and following the New Zealand approach to grass management is not only set to boost profitability. "It has changed the entire way we approach our farm. Now we rule the cows, they dont rule us," he told the Cumbria meeting.

"Three years ago, we milked 140 cows, averaging 6400 litres from 600kg of concentrates. We were getting 4990 litres from grass with a MOC of £1475 per cow. A sound performance, but there was one thing missing. The profit level was out of line with the time and effort involved. We were engrossed in technical achievement figures and had simply lost the plot," said Mr John, who farms at Narberth.

There are now 170 cows in the herd with 130 calving over an eight-week period from Feb 1. The remaining 40 will join them next year. Concentrate use has fallen to 400kg a cow, silage use is down from 12-13t to 5t a cow and the fully-housed winter period was cut to 10 weeks. "Our aim is to make grazed grass 75-80% of the cows diet."

Variable costs have been slashed by over 50% in two years from 7.71p/litre to 3.7p/litre mainly through reduced use of purchased feeds for both cows and youngstock, and its lower cost.

Mr John stressed that the predicted rise in profit a litre – static at 7.3p/litre for 1996/97 and 1997/98, but looking likely to achieve a 1998/99 target of 10.8p/litre – was before rent, finance and quota costs. The benefits of the New Zealand system have meant a cut in forage variable costs by almost a penny a litre as grazed grass has replaced silage in the diet.

"We reckon we can grow 25% more grass consistently by rotational grazing and using a back-fence has enabled us to reduce N use or increase stocking rate."

In 1996, 115ha (285 acres) were cut for silage in three cuts compared with 71ha (175 acres) this year, of which only 52ha (130 acres) were cut twice. The rest was taken as big-bales to cope with a surplus of grass allocated for grazing.

Plate metres are used diligently. From mid-August the aim is to build from 2200kg DM/ha to 2700-3000kg DM/ha by early October, achieved by increased use of fertiliser and extending the rotation from 21 to 45 days.

"We aim to graze the whole farm once before the taking first cut silage. We do not graze the farm below an average cover of 1700kg DM/ha," said Mr John.