17 April 1997

Organic milk premium gives lift to margins

When farmers weekly teamed up

with Genus to give away a

Vauxhall Brava pick-up in the

Driven by Excellence contest,

we had no idea how difficult it

would be to find just one

winner. The winner will be

announced next week, but in

the meantime Jessica Buss

reports on five of the finalists

A GLANCE at the technical performance of Helen Brownings Cuesbrook Herd may be deceiving; herd yield has just been maintained and concentrate use has decreased little.

But by producing organic milk and marketing it for a premium, margin over concentrate has improved from 16.74 to 25p/litre and from £1055 to £1607 a cow. Yields have been maintained despite the challenges and restrictions of organic milk production.

Ms Browning says that although the herd has been organic for five years, the first premium for organic milk was received only two and a half years ago. "The formation of the Organic Milk Suppliers Co-op was a big breakthrough. There is now a lot of interest in organic milk and the milk price reflects it. Before deregulation it was difficult for the then MMB to focus on marketing organic milk."

Her Cuesbrook Herd is one of two dairy units on the 425ha (1050-acre) Eastbrook Farm, Swindon, Wilts. They are run separately, but use the same forage harvesting team.

Cuesbrook comprises 120 cows, averaging 6408 litres off 1226kg of concentrates. Organic rules insist that 60% of the cows diet comes from forage on a dry matter basis, explains Ms Browning.

She is aiming to lift milk quality, because fat and protein percentages are low, and uses high PIN bulls to improve the average PIN of £11 for the herd. But breeding cows of good type for longevity has become more important for the herd now that antibiotic treatments are rarely used, and use of fertility drugs is extremely rare.

Replacement rate is low at 16-18% each year with most culling for infertility, poor udder conformation and high cell counts, says Mr Browning.

Two vets help keep the herd healthy; the local conventional vet visits fortnightly and a homoeopathic vet is used on a consultancy basis.

Cell counts average 230,000/ml, and clinical cases are low. Herdsman, Roy Hill, stresses that herd health management needs tight control to minimise use of antibiotics, especially for mastitis. He has seen just six clinical mastitis cases in the past 12 months.

He achieves this by keeping cow cubicles clean enough for cows to only need dry wiping in the parlour.

To prevent environmental mastitis around calving, pens are cleaned out after each calving and the fresh calvers yard cleaned out every two weeks.

Most clinical cases are treated with homoeopathy, cold water rubs and frequent stripping out. No antibiotic dry cow therapy is used.

Roy Hill (left) tells judges how a tight mastitis control policy for the organic Cuesbrook herd has resulted in just six clinical cases in the past year.

Genus/farmers weekly competition finalists herd performance

Browning Corbett Day Lee Masters

Cows 94 124 50 134 109 89

Yield 94 6,487 6,874 6,836 5,972 6,585

Conc 94 1,431 1,887 1,683 1,943 1,310

MOPF a cow 94 1,085 1,294 1,266 1,010 1,292

MOPF/litre 94 16.74 18.82 18.5 16.92 19.63

Cows 97 121 45 129 114 103

Yield 97 6408 9,654 8,513 7,000 7,439

Conc 97 1,226 2,760 1,717 1,448 1,533

MOPF a cow 97 1,612 2,012 1,932 1,480 1,733

MOPF/litre 97 25.15 20.85 22.7 21.15 23.3

Declared costs (p/litre)

Variable* 9.47 11.07 8.73 7.34 7.08

Fixed** 8.04 8.67 6.73 7.23 8.54

*Without quota leasing. **Excluding rent and finance charges.