5 September 1997

Production maps point the way to lower costs

Reducing costs a litre using milk production maps is the focus of Kingshay Farming Trust discussion meetings. Robert Davies reports

BEFORE deciding how to cut production costs a litre, stand back and compare your own dairy performance relative to others.

That is the advice of Somerset-based Kingshay Farming Trust, which urges its members to plot their positions on three milk production maps.

These were drawn using herd costings supplied by 400 producers who took part in a recent survey. The first shows the purchased feed costs in p/litre achieved by members with herd averages ranging from 4000 to 10,000 litres.

Another compares concentrate use in kg a cow to produce yields ranging from under 3000 to almost 10,000 litres. The third correlates labour and herd size.

"As the milk price falls it is time for producers to stand back and look at their present position relative to others, and decide what they can change to lower costs a litre," says Kingshay consultant Duncan Forbes. "At our discussion meetings we ask members for their own figures, which we plot on the maps. They also complete a checklist to find the potential for reducing costs a litre in their herds.

"The geographic analogy is important. On the map showing concentrate use and yield the choice is to go west and cut cake use, or north and raise yield by targeting feed to the best cows."

With the checklist producers score 0, 1 or 2 for answering no, maybe, or yes to each of 22 questions. Topics range from grazing management to the number and placement of water troughs. Scores of 30 or more show potential for lowering costs a litre; under 10 suggest fine-tuning is required.

"The maps and checklist are simple tools for members to take a look at the physical and financial performance of their herds. All farms are different, and different producers will prefer to take different approaches to cutting costs."

The Kingshay discussion meetings look at how some of the subjects covered in the checklist apply on the host farm. At Saighton Lane Farm, Saighton, Cheshire, Richard Jones told his visitors that he was trying to improve milk yield and quality, while maximising production from forage, and reducing inorganic fertiliser use.

The aim was also to breed higher genetic merit cows at lower cost.

To this end young bull semen from Cogent was used across the entire herd. First-lactation animals had a PIN value of £39, compared with a negative PINof £-5 for fifth calvers.

The 166 milkers averaged 7259 litres at 4.31% butterfat and 3.3% protein, of which 3652 came from forage. Mr Jones said he believed it was possible to increase milk from forage to 5000 litres. Concentrate was fed at the rate of 0.26kg/litre.

With a stocking rate of 2.06 cows a hectare (0.8/acre), the margin over purchased feed and fertiliser was £3172/ha (£1284/acre). This would improve through using a new waste management plan.

Slurry could be pumped to any part of the farm via overground piping, and it could be spread any time of the year using a tractor mounted dribble bar and umbilical hose. This placed the slurry on the ground where it did not contaminate herbage.

"We have reduced bagged fertiliser applications from 265kg/ha to 227kg/ha, and it could go as low as 100kg/ha," Mr Jones predicted.

Visitors also saw how the palatability of clover could encourage cows to eat the 17kg a day of herbage dry matter they need.

Mr Forbes said clover should be seen more as an intake aid than as a provider of nitrogen. With proper management 25% clover could be sustained in swards getting 280kg/ha (224 units/acre) of N.n

Richard Jones (left) and Kingshays Duncan Forbes: Lifting production from forage and reducing inorganic N use. Inset: Kingshay milk map.

Kingshay checklist: sample questions

&#8226 Could high yielders be offered buffer feeding on wet days, or when grazing becomes tight?

&#8226 If high yielders justify extra feed, can I ensure lower yielders do not get it?

&#8226 Could lower yielders produce 100% of their milk from forage?

&#8226 Could the grazing system be altered to a) offer high quality forage more often? b) ensure cows eat at least 17kg of grass DM/day?

&#8226 Can grazing flexibility be improved to allow a) surplus grass to be conserved? b) grazing area to be expanded during periods of slow recovery?

&#8226 Could using new clovers and best grasses for reseeds increase milk from forage?

Kingshay open day

Reducing costs a litre will be the focus of an open day run by Kingshay Farming Trust and farmers weekly. Held at Henley Manor, Crewkerne, Somerset, on Wed, Sept 24, from 10.30am to 2pm, emphasis will be on improving efficiency through better grazing management, use of clover, maize, and Kinghays Milk Map. For details of the day, which is free to members and non-members, contact Kingshay on (01460-72977).