21 March 1997


The falling milk price is increasing the emphasis on reducing production costs, especially where dairying must compete with arable incomes

in East Anglia.

Jessica Buss visits one dairy unit that aims to remain profitable

RESTRUCTURING on one Lincolnshire mixed farming business will produce savings of 1.8p/litre for the 4m-litre output and release an extra 140ha (346 acres) of land for arable cropping.

Key savings will come from reduced labour costs and lower feed costs for the 520 cows, says farm manager Mike Brearley, Roxholme Estates, Sleaford.

The first stage in the stategy to decrease costs has been completed, according to his ADAS consultant Mark Roach.

"This strategy takes account of the limiting factors here and it goes right through the business," says Mr Roach.

This was the amalgamation of two of the farms three dairy herds which was completed in December when the cows came into the updated unit.

Mr Brearley says that with two head cowmen retiring and two units with 25-30 year-old plant, it was time to review the strategy on the mixed farm. With the whole farm eligible for area aid and the quota value high, quitting milk production was considered.

"But milk is as good a payer as anything else," says Mr Brearley. "So we decided to produce the 4m litres from as few cows as possible."

To improve efficiency and reduce renovation costs one unit was closed and the Cranwell Hall unit updated to cope with extra cows and to enable yields to increase. Investments in a new parlour and cow housing were made.

The old 10:20 herringbone was gutted and the pit redesigned at a cost of £32,000 without the parlour.

The new parlour is a 14:28 herringbone linked to a computer and has a dedicated dump line to take away waste milk. Now the parlours teething troubles have been overcome, milking is taking less time and the aim is to milk 260 cows in 2.5 hours.

"This parlour is capable of one-man milking so the second staff member can spend time outside, pushing up feed, bedding the yards and observing cows," says Mr Brearley.

"We are producing 600,000 litres a man now compared with 500,000 litres a man before." He expects output a man to increase as yields increase and cow numbers decline.

The aim is to increase cow yields from 6200 litres in summer 1996 to 8000 litres by Jan 1998. The herd is now averaging 7400 litres from 2.2t of concentrates – with 3000 litres from forage. Feeders were installed in the parlour to allow summer concentrate feeding.

Cows are still housed in straw yards, but feed barriers have allowed complete diet feeding to replace the self-feed silage system. It is hoped this will increase feed intakes and yields.

The old self-feeding silage barn has been converted to a straw yard with a feed barrier for extra cow accommodation. Silage storage was available elsewhere on the farm.

Extra feed space is provided at a barrier in an outdoor yard. Low rainfall and rare snowfall ensure few wet days each winter, so covering the yard cannot be justified for cow intakes are not being restricted, adds Mr Brearley.

However, renovation of the old solid sided silage barn is needed to provide more ventilation. According to ADAS welfare specialist Brian Pocknee, although the barn has an open ridge in the roof airflow needs improving. The side wall sheets on the top half of the walls will be replaced with space boarding to improve the ventilation across the three straw yards.

Grass was also a weakness of the dairy system. Grass yields are poor because of low rainfall that averages 550mm (22in) a year and in both 1995 and 1996 was 425mm (17in).

"This is an arable farm with a dairy enterprise which challenges us to look at the costs of feed that we grow," says Mr Brearley.

Mr Roach estimates that the farms grass silage has cost £170/t of dry matter over the last three years. The energy cost of this silage is high compared with cereals, he adds.

Therefore, heavier reliance on maize silage that grows well on this site and cereals will reduce feed costs, allowing the grass acreage to be reduced.

"Margin over purchased feed a litre is not a major indicator of the business performance – profit is more important," says Mr Roach. &#42

Left: Complete diet feeding behind barriers has replaced the self-feeding to make more efficient use of silage. Above: Extra cows are now housed at Cranwell Hall so that another unit could be closed reducing labour costs, claims Mark Roach.

Farm manager Mike Brearley knows grass silage is valuable costing £170/t to produce on the estate. The energy cost is high compared with cereals.

Cow performance at Roxholme Estates



July 965676,2001,383

Jan 975197,4001,551


&#8226 Amalgamating two herdssaves labour.

&#8226 New parlour speeds milking times.

&#8226 Reducing grass acreage cuts feed costs.

Roxholme Estates cropping plan


ha (acres)ha (acres)

Grassland384 (947)231 (570)

Rentedgrass80 (200)none

Maizesilage56 (138)70 (173)

Arable510 (1,260)650 (1,567)