20 February 1998

Upping output not answer to milk price fall

By Jessica Buss

INCREASING output a cow is a common response to coping with lower milk prices, but some consultants are concerned it may be unprofitable.

Tony Evans, partner at Andersons, Melton Mowbray, advises against continuing to justify concentrate use on marginal returns. Focus on technical efficiency and save capital, he advises.

Increasing yield from forage by 500 litres a cow and paying £20/t less for concentrate can re-coup 1p of the predicted 3p/litre fall in milk price over the next 12 months.

"Only increase output when everything else is under control and provided you can get a good response to extra concentrate."

As yield increases the response to extra concentrates falls. At a response rate of 0.6-0.7kg of concentrate a litre at a price of £120/t, each litre costs 8-9p in feed. Adding quota leasing at 8p, and allowing for additional overheads, leaves little margin at a 19.5p/litre milk price, says Mr Evans.

Increasing output also increases vet and herd replacement costs, and conception rates may fall.

He also advises against spending capital; reduce costs, for example, by giving up complete diet feeding or selling machinery.

Axient nutrition consultant Neil Adams suggests exploring how to produce more from forage, before increasing concentrate.

"Only feed more concentrate when it produces more profit." This depends on how much is already fed and herd genetic merit.

"Increasing concentrates from 8 to 9kg a cow will probably result in a lower response than an increase from 4 to 5kg." He cites studies at Hillsborough, N Ireland, which show that increasing concentrate from 4 to 7kg increased yield by three litres and milk protein by 0.07%, so this scenario may not be profitable when extra quota is needed.

SAC Langhill studies show that higher genetic merit cows, £50 ITEM, produce an extra 1875 litres from just 110kg more concentrate than cows of £15 ITEM, by producing more from forage.

Mr Adams believes in some cases it may be more profitable to reduce concentrates or to feed straights or home-grown feed, saving on purchased feed costs. Ask if the £40/t fall in straights prices is being reflected by your farms feed prices, he says. But cheap compounds may be a false economy.

John Easterbrooke of Dorset-based Easterbrooke and Partners adds that when extra concentrate is fed the response rate of cows will vary depending on management, genetics and forages offered. Average feed rate for a 7000-litre herd varies between 0.4-0.14kg concentrate a litre, he explains.

When an extra litre can be produced from 0.5kg of concentrate, it can leave a reasonable margin.

"However, simply feeding more concentrate, may result in cows substituting concentrate for forage." He believes forage intakes are often underestimated and management should focus on encouraging cows to eat more.

Factors influencing forage intakes include grass and silage quality, mixed forage diets, ease and hours of access to feed.

"Self-feeding, for example, on a high and hard feed face can restrict intakes compared with cows eating loose feed from a manger," adds Mr Easterbrooke.

Bibbys Duncan Rose advises understanding production costs in p/litre and the marginal response rate from extra concentrates.

"You must ask what your average genetics are, to predict a response to extra feed. With good genetics there is still a margin in increasing concentrates.

"But also find out when it does not pay to produce the next litre." For most the limit is 7500 to 8000 litres a cow. However, when quota is restricting, producers must get more milk from forage and make high feed value silage, adds Mr Rose.

BOCM Pauls Bruce Woodacre says profits will be based on profitable use of a high proportion of bulky feeds in cow diets making use of the resources on your farm.

He advises comparing your performance against farms with similar objectives to set realistic targets for improvement. "It is no good chasing output at the expense of efficiency."

LOWER MILK PRICES

&#8226 Focus on technical efficiency.

&#8226 Stop spending capital.

&#8226 Maximise home-grown feed.