10 May 1996



Genetic merit and maximum use of forage is the key to success on both high and low input systems.

Jonathan Riley reports

TWO producers with different approaches to making profit from dairy cows both agree that improving genetics is the key to success.

Leicestershire-based Peter Dixon-Smith favours high inputs whereas Sussex producer Jim Harrisons 800-cow herd is run on a low input regime.

Mr Harrisons herd at Barnfold Farm, Billinghurst, West Sussex averages 5500kg a cow a year at 4.4% fat, 3.4% protein. Minimal input costs achieve a margin of 20p a litre over feed costs.

He believes long term profit is based on cost control, good fertility, and low mortality of youngstock with a simple feed system keeping labour to a minimum.

During winter ad-lib silage plus a 24% protein concentrate, comrising one third rapemeal, and two thirds mineralised maize gluten, is fed in parlour at a flat rate of 5kg a cow a day.

"With all silage self-fed behind an electric tape, careful face management is essential to reduce spoilage, especially if maize and grass silage are being fed together. Then a single daily move of the tape is all that is required – so keeping labour costs down," says Mr Harrison.

"But to produce the cheapest possible litre, you also need the most efficient cows you can get," he says.

"PIN is a good indication of efficiency whether you run a high or low input system but you need the added attribute of high forage intakes.

"There is a very large difference in ability to consume and use forage amongst high performing cows. One third calver gave us over 9000 litres at over 4% fat and 3% protein for two lactations on the same diet. She had a cow genetic index of 159 – nearly 60% better than the herd average," he says.

Flush of embryos

After flushing her, all but one of her daughters recorded similar high yields. As a result Mr Harrison purchased a flush of embryos from the highest yielding cows in a group on the concentrates and high forage regime at the Scottish Agricultural Colleges Langhill Research Centre. The flush produced one heifer, giving 9311kg at 5% fat, 3.2% protein.

"I am now convinced that better genetics will lift our fat and protein yields with no alteration to the concentrate input or change of management," says Mr Harrison.

In contrast Peter Dixon-Smiths Lyons herd at Tugby, Leics averages 11,000kg/cow. Milk is sold to a Stilton cheese manufacturer and the margin over feed is above £1900/cow.

Mr Dixon-Smith says: "Of the management inputs, feeding has the greatest effect, with total mixed rations being the biggest advance in feeding in recent years."

The system is based on high dry matter grass silage, maize and whole-crop cereals. High yielders are fed a TMR ration for maintenance plus 43 litres of production topped up by out-of-parlour feeders.

"I prefer the high input high return system because there is greater scope for making profit," says Mr Dixon-Smith. "As research at Langhill has shown there is a high relationship between genetic merit and profit," he says.

His aim is to average 12,000kg at 7.5% combined fat and protein by the year 2000. "This we will do, by doubling the PIN value of the herd. But, the higher the production index goes, the higher the type index must be.

"The animal welfare implications of using bulls which confer poor feet and legs is horrendous. And production implications for using bulls which confer poor udders equally so," says Mr Dixon-Smith.

Daughters from Ronnybrook Prelude and Belt will account for half the milking herd by the end of this year.

"Our best producer is a Walkway Chief Mark daughter. She has a medium stature, great depth and enormous appetite. She produced over 17,000kg in 305 days from the TMR plus 1kg fed out-of-parlour. She is an example of extreme dairy character without extreme stature.

"To milk 100 cows an hour with our system, we need cows with good temperament, speed of milking, and resistance to mastitis to keep somatic cell counts down. We also look for good fertility and ease of calving. The highest pedigree index is of no value if you have a dead calf," he says. &#42

Jim Harrison: "To produce the cheapest possible litre, you need the most efficient cows you can get."

Petr Dixon-Smith (left) and his farm manager Will Taylor – system based on high genetics, high DM silage, maize and whole-crop forage.