17 November 2000

Poor forage to hit margins

By Marianne Curtis

WITH the difference between milk price and quota leasing costs larger than ever, there are real opportunities to maximise dairy margins this winter, according to one Kite dairy consultant. But poor quality forage is the biggest limitation to herds seeking to boost production.

Midlands-based consultant David Levick says: "We are highly unlikely to meet quota this year even if dairy producers go flat out to produce as much milk as possible.

"Assuming an 18.5p/litre milk price, concentrate cost of £100/t, forage cost of £80/t and 0.5p/litre quota leasing cost there is a potential margin of 10-11p/litre to be had on leased in quota."

But achieving high yields on this years generally poor quality silage is likely to prove difficult, he warns. "There is so much poor quality silage about that even if you feed extra compound feed there is no guarantee that cows will respond."

Andersons dairy consultant Tony Evans says extra feeding should be targeted according to lactation stage and yield response monitored to check that it is cost-effective.

"You are only likely to achieve an economic yield response when feeding cows up to 100-120 days into lactation. Anyone year-round calving should think carefully before offering extra out-of-parlour feed as this is a waste unless specific groups of cows can be targeted according to yield."

Unless extra feeding provides a measurable yield response, it isnt justified, says Mr Evans. "Work out how much the extra feed is costing a day and divide this by the milk price. For example, feeding an extra 2kg/head of concentrate to a 120-cow herd should result in nearly 200 extra litres of milk/day in the bulk tank to break even.

"If you dont see this kind of yield response within 10 days then go back to using less concentrate."

However, balancing forage correctly is essential to improve yield and maintain fertility, warns Mr Levick. "Many silages that I have seen are lacking in rumen degradable protein for which the simplest supplement is urea. But even feeding more protein may not necessarily unlock energy in these silages."

Where facilities permit, molasses-based urea products may be useful supplements for poorer quality silages, suggests Mr Levick. "Molasses is palatable which may be important in getting cows to eat some of the poorer quality silages. Urea can be added to molasses as a source of RDP."

Failing to feed cows properly means storing up problems for next year, he says. "It is important to step up feeding to get cows back in calf as well as to increase output. Allowing calving patterns to slip by a month could cost you £1000s and make meeting quota even more difficult next year."

Alternative feeds, such as brewers grains, citrus pulp and pressed sugar beet pulp may help to eke out forage on some farms, believes ADAS nutritionist Chris Savery. "Plan ahead and work out how long forage is going to last and consider buying these alternatives now as prices could rise over winter."

Three-times-a-day milking, in combination with extra feeding, may also be an option to raise yields, says Mr Evans. "Three-times-a-day milking leads to yield increases typically in the region of 10-15%. Historically it has never paid in a quota leasing situation but now that leasing costs are so low it might just be worth it.

"Do your sums, taking account of all extra associated costs and, as with feeding, if you dont get a sufficient yield response, pack it in."

There is a culture of not spending money which could mean producers missing out, warns Mr Evans. "There is the opportunity to produce more milk without worrying about cost of quota which requires a change in mindset. For the last 13 years the difference between milk price and quota leasing costs has averaged 13.25p. This year it is about 17.2p."


&#8226 Leased quota 0.5p/litre.

&#8226 Balance poor quality forage carefully.

&#8226 Monitor yield response.


&#8226 Leased quota 0.5p/litre.

&#8226 Balance poor quality forage carefully.

&#8226 Monitor yield response.