18 September 1998

SAC says cheaper feeds help balance lower milk price

By Allan Wright

SCOTTISH dairy farmers have some positive news this winter as the milk price has bottomed out and there are cheap supplies of both cereals and protein.

The SACs John Bax has just started a series of five public meetings on winter feeding and milk quality, the main aim being to report on research results from projects funded by the Milk Development Council. General advice is that there are opportunities this winter and profits will depend on making the most of them.

"There are cheap feeds to be had, and with correct rationing there is an opportunity to claw back some losses. Maximum use of forage in store is essential and there will be different answers depending on individual circumstances.

"Some producers had difficulty making silage, especially second cut, and are concerned about quality. Others already know that they are going to be short of forage. The aim of these meetings is to present information on how best to formulate rations with and without silage for both milk cows and young stock using available cheap feeds," he says.

He narrows cheap feeds down to milled cereals from £80/t delivered and soya at £118/t but warns that meeting new regulations and registration procedures for on-farm storage and feed mixing, introduced on Aug 31, will cause concerns for some producers.

MDC research indicated no benefit from feeding grain treated with caustic soda compared with milled cereals. Mr Bax says choice comes down to price charged for milling and health and safety aspects of handling caustic soda.

Cost and cow health benefits of restricting intake of high energy feeds but ensuring gut fill with bulky feeds during the dry period is emphasised, as is reliability of the metabolisable protein (MP) system of feed analysis. "Research has confirmed that the system is robust and it will be even more important with cheap protein available," says Mr Bax.

He sees efficient rationing as the most important thing a dairy farmer can do this winter to generate profitable milk production.

"The first essential is to get forages analysed. The quality of some second cut silage may surprise farmers. Then use that information to formulate an efficient diet. That can include manipulating milk constituent content to suit the individuals end market. There is a lot of information available, like the fact that protected fats in a diet will reduce milk protein."

He advises those short of silage or with variable quality to give milk cows top priority. "Young stock can get through the winter and grow on straw and draff or a similar feed.

"It is essential to plan forward. There should be no case for running out of silage in spring. It is most likely that producers will feed higher levels of purchased feeds than previously but at todays prices that is no bad thing. I am reasonably confident about winter prospects," says Mr Bax. &#42

WINTER FEEDING

&#8226 Analyse forage.

&#8226 Formulate ration.

&#8226 Use cheap feeds.