7 July 1995

Simplification was the name of the game…

By Sue Rider

SIMPLIFYING the dairy ration at Bedfordia Farms has brought cost savings and improved milk quality.

The 420 cows at New Dairy Farm, Radwell, Bedford, have been total mixed ration-fed since the herd was set-up in September 1987.

But grassland manager David Matthews has now simplified that feeding regime to cut costs and ease the workload on staff.

Staffing on the 300ha (750-acre) unit is five full-time men plus Mr Matthews and a part-time secretary. As well as the milkers and 300 replacement heifers they run 600 dry ewes.

All relief is provided by the staff and the buildings never go over three weeks without mucking out to reduce mastitis risks.

The 6500-litre herd is managed as three milking groups of about 120 cows which are batched according to lactation stage and milked twice a day. There are always about 60 dry cows.

"We were feeding a total mixed ration once a day to both cows and youngstock but this put staff under pressure and stockmanship suffered," says Mr Matthews.

The decision to make the feed regime less labour intensive last October was costed carefully. Mr Matthews opted to replace the caustic-treated wheat in the ration with ground wheat. "The switch has really paid off," he says. "Our stockman was having to spend so much time mixing feed he didnt have time to look at the stock in detail. He was also uncomfortable handling the caustic prills."

He was treating 3t of wheat to provide feed for one-and-a-half days. Mr Matthews puts the cost of caustic treating that wheat at £13/t, including labour and capital investment.

As well as the extra labour cost, he says the caustic wheat was tricky to store and could cause digestive upsets when fed immature.

When considering alternatives to the caustic-treated wheat he decided the costs of buying and running a feed mill made on-farm crimping or grinding prohibitive. Instead Suffolk-based Mill Feeds (Anglia) grinds the wheat on the farm. It costs about half the price of the caustic treatment, depending on load size plus quantity to be marketed.

"Our stockman is happier not having to handle the caustic prills, storage is easier and I am not tying up expensive labour doing a manual job," says Mr Matthews.

The knock-on benefit is that the dairy unit is also using less straw. "The cows were drinking more water because of the salts in the diet and that resulted in wetter bedding," he explains.

He finds the ground wheat easier to store than the caustic-treated and it presents no risk of digestive upsets when fed as part of a total mixed ration.

Another cost saving initiative saw an end to straights feeding in April 1994. Instead Mr Matthews buys a blend direct from local compounders MSF. This is formulated by his ADAS consultant Chris Savery (see table).

"We decided on the blend because we hadnt the storage and we were spending over 30 hours through the winter handling the material," he says.

He costs the 30 hours labour tied up in this job at £15/hour, giving a total cost of £450 for the winter, or 75p/t.

In addition was the interest to pay on the forward-bought straights to holding company Bedfordia Farms at 2% above base rate.

In the winter of 1993/1994 the charges came to £207 a month. "It is vital to look at interest charges before committing yourself to buying straights," he says. "I decided we couldnt afford to do it."

The blend is £12/t cheaper than buying individual straights through savings on labour, interest charges and machinery depreciation. Because it is easier to store, less is wasted to birds and vermin.

Mr Matthews figures both the protein blend and ground wheat have improved the dairy ration and lifted herd performance.

Although he admits genetics are improving year on year, milk protein content has increased from 3.23% in May 1994 to 3.37% in May 1995, according to ADAS Milk Cheque 12-month rolling results. Mr Matthews points to improved efficiency reflected by concentrate use, which over the same period has also dropped from 0.15kg/litre to 0.11kg/litre.

Currently high yielders are offered a ration of 10kg grass silage, 10kg maize silage, 5kg brewers grains, 2.8kg of the MSF blend, 3kg of ground wheat, 1kg of molasses, plus high phosphorus minerals to provide maintenance plus 32 litres.

In addition cows graze during the day and are parlour fed with a high energy cake to a maximum of 5kg for cows yielding over 44 litres.

Rolling 12 months results

Mar 95Mar 94

Milk yield

(litres a cow)6,532 6,888*

Fat (%)3.923.92

Protein (%)3.373.23

Milk price (p/litre)24.0420.93

Concentrate use


Margin over all purchased feed


(£ a cow)1,1811,073


*Three-times-a-day milking.

&#8226 37% Rapemeal.

&#8226 28% Hipro soya.

&#8226 9% Fishmeal.

&#8226 25% Wheat.

&#8226 Farm size: 300ha (741-acres).

&#8226 Stocking: 420 Holstein Friesian cows, 300 followers, 600 dry ewes.

&#8226 Cropping: 66ha (163 acres) forage maize, remainder grass.

&#8226 Quota: 3m litres with 300,000 litres leased out last year.

David Matthews, the grassland manager at Bedfordia Farms, Bedford, with one of the three 120-head herds that are now fed a simplified dairy ration. As a result, costs have been cut and milk quality improved.