26 March 1999

Trend to bigger herds to offset lower returns

HERD expansion continues apace as dairy farmers bid to combat low milk prices.

The latest Axient Milkminder figures show average herd size rose to 123 cows in January, compared with 117 a year before. Milk prices over the same period fell more than 5% to 19.27p/litre.

The trend mainly reflects farmers retaining stock, says Axients Tim Harper, with the prospect of making about £250 under OTMS reducing the incentive to cull.

There is, says Mr Harper, plenty of scope to retain stock, with many outfits having a younger age profile than traditionally has been the case, partly a result of losing older animals under the BSE slaughterings.

"Mastitis consultants have also been very successful in reducing cell counts by culling the older cows in recent years," he adds.

Figures from Bibby reveal a similar trend, with the best herds putting ever-more distance between themselves and the average. "The best just keep getting better," says the firms Duncan Rose.

The difference in margin over purchased feed between the top 10% and the top half was £160/cow in 1998, compared with £116/cow five years ago.

"These figures clearly show that yield generates margin. More yield means more income – and provided it is achieved without increasing fixed costs it will mean more profit too." &#42