17 July 1998

Profit a litre key to dairy survival in difficult times

Production from grazed grass

and high quality silage were

key topics on the first day of

the BGS summer tour in

Staffs. Jessica Buss reports

PRODUCING milk with a feed and forage cost of just 4.38p/litre has not satisfied Ian Platt, who is improving his management this year to produce more from grazed grass.

Profit to January 1998 was 11.23p/litre before rent, finance, depreciation and quota for his 158-cow herd at Ashley Grange Farm, Market Drayton.

This was based on producing 3790 litres – of the 6320-litre yield average – from forage, with an estimated 80% of that from grazed grass. He fed 1160kg of concentrate a cow and used 370kg/ha of nitrogen (300 units/acre) on 68ha (167 acres) of grass at the 87ha (217-acre) farm.

Mr Platt told the BGS summer tour that he believes focusing on profit a litre is the key to surviving the current climate in dairying. "Margin over concentrate is outdated and of little relevance.

"We need a high stocking rate – currently 2.75/ha, must limit purchased feed coming on to the farm and keep costs down." But he was keen to follow a simple system, offering cows lots of high quality grass and block calving.

"I inherited a January block calving herd and have stuck with it. Blocking calving focuses us separately on each job, such as calving and then bulling."

Even though his heavy clay loam soils are slow to start in spring and not ideal for a spring calving farm, Mr Platt believes it works well. Turnout coincides with cows reaching peak yield and grazing follows the grass decline through the season, he added.

Until this year, cows grazed seven months a year, using 4ha (10-acre) fields which provided four to six feeds, and grazing was alternated with cutting to keep grass fresh.

But this year Mr Platt started rotational grazing using 24-hour paddocks, 1.6-2.2ha (4-5.5 acres) in size, because he felt it would grow more grass through the summer and allow him to extend the grazing season.

"Regrowth after grazing is faster, and there is less poaching." But the biggest benefit should be in autumn.

"We have tended to run short of grazing in September, and kept cows out when they had little to graze to save work. But building a grass wedge should allow us to graze quality grass into October and possibly November."

He added that little concentrate had been fed after turnout with cows relying heavily on grass. Cows were offered 2-3kg a day of compound until mid-summer and then decreasing levels of maize gluten from 2kg to 1kg.

To further improve use of grazed grass, Mr Platt is considering delaying the start of his calving block until late January. This will reduce silage feeding before turnout, allow cows to rely more on grazed grass and the planned increase in herd size to 200 cows at a lower yield could be managed within the herds owned quota.

ROTATIONALGRAZING

&#8226 Grows more summer grass.

&#8226 Allows longer grazing season.

&#8226 Should be more profitable.