26 September 1997

Plentiful silage will help meet cheaper milk goal

Low returns for milk and grain provide limited reward for much hard work at Whelan Farms in Kent. Suzie Horne reports

THE dairy herd at Whelan Farms is going into the autumn milking well and, with good levels of silage stocks, the plan is to produce milk as cheaply as possible through the winter.

The herds October milk price of a basic 19.3p/litre will be made up to 20.5p after bonuses, which manager Robert Kilby hopes represents the bottom of the trough.

"If it gets down into the teens, we will see a lot of people going out of dairying," he says.

He has been surprised at how well the cows have milked on their buffer feed. August production boosted the rolling average yield to almost 6600 litres, with margin over concentrates up £20 a cow on the previous month and £100 a cow better than a year ago.

Yield from the heifers, at around 6000 litres, has been particularly pleasing. "Its always been a problem in the past. Theyve been around 4500 litres which has really pulled the herd average down," says Mr Kilby.

"But this time weve had good grass growth, good weather and the breeding policy is starting to show through."

While not wanting to tempt fate, Mr Kilby says that calving has also been going well, with just two calf losses so far.

Cow numbers are around 175 at present. There are another 30 heifers to come in, and once culls have been accounted for this will bring the herd to 190. Further culling next year and the introduction of another 55 heifers will see numbers go over the 200 mark.

More quota will be needed again next year, and it is expected that this will be leased, as the contract farming account operates entirely on overdraft.

While the cows will probably come in at night from the end of this week, the plan is to keep them out during the day for another month – weather permitting.

"It takes the pressure off everything if they are still out – its better for the staff, theres less bedding required and the cows are much happier," says Mr Kilby.

With 400 round bales of silage having been taken off the sheep ground recently, plus an expected 200t more maize silage than last year, there should be another 2t a cow of silage available this season. The maize harvest is planned for next week, which will be two weeks earlier than last year.

As well as the 200t of brewers grains already bought, Mr Kilby is looking for another 40t a month through the winter. While prices have dropped to between £13 and £14/t delivered, he is sitting it out, hoping for a few more £s off.

Harvest finally finished on Sep 9, and was a stop-start affair from the first day. "You cant be disappointed if you exceed budgeted yields, but it was frustrating for all of us. Across all the enterprises everyone has worked really hard and the physical results are there. But were not going to get the profit."

A more stable lamb price than last year has seen an average net price of £41.11 a head for the 2059 fat and store lambs sold from the farm this summer, compared with the net average of £42 a head in 1996.

A total of 807 creep fedfinished lambs sold through Invicta Lamb at Lamberhurst averaged £43.45 net, while the non-creep lambs averaged £42.19, and 882 stores through Ashford market averaged £38.52 a head.

Stores from Whelan Farms topped the market in the first week of stores sales at Ashford, at £46 a head for ewe lambs and £43 a head for wethers. The farms crossbred stores took second prize at the markets stores show and sale.

At 1.59, the ratio of lambs sold to ewes tupped is 5% better than last year, but Mr Kilby is hoping to get closer to 1.65 next year by concentrating on reducing early lamb losses.

Ewes are in good condition, and were joined by 250 head of locally reared replacement Mules this week at £86 a head, which is more than Mr Kilby wanted to pay, but is where the market has taken them.


Whelan Farms harvest results t/ha (t/acre)

1996Budget 1997Actual 1997

Oats7.3 (2.95)6.8 (2.75)7.0 (2.83)

Wheat8.2 (3.31)6.9 (2.80)7.6 (3.08)

Winter barley6.3 (2.55)5.9 (2.40)6.6 (2.66)

Linseed1.4 (0.55)1.2 (0.50)1.3 (0.53)

W oilseed rape3.7 (1.49)2.7 (1.10)3.5 (1.42)

Peas2.9 (1.71)4.0 (1.60)4.1 (1.64)

Spring barley6.3 (2.56)4.9 (2.00)6.3 (2.55)


Whelan Farms dairy results to August

19961997

Rolling average milk yield (litres/cow)60036582

Rolling average margin over concentrates (£/cow)12591362

August margin over all feed and fert (p/litre)19.9020.92

Rolling average margin over all feed

and fert (£/cow)11941322

FARM FACTS

&#8226 A 649ha (1604 acre) arable, dairy and sheep holding owned by John Whelan and farmed by Sentry Farming.

&#8226 Chalky soil with some clay over chalk in Kent.

&#8226 356ha (880 acres) mixed combinable crops, including non-rotational set-aside.

&#8226 Dairy herd currently stands at 195 cows averaging just over 6500 litres.

&#8226 1300 ewes lambing mid-March, mainly Mules, some Scotch half-breds.

&#8226 Six full-time staff.

Robert Kilby (right) and Andy Crow check the drill settings while putting in Reaper wheat.