11 December 1998

Winter maize and summer grazing hold down costs

Feeding and breeding were

key topics on the MGAs

recent French trip.

Simon Wragg reports

TOTAL maize winter rations and maximum use of summer grazing allows one Brittany producer to keep feed costs down to just 3.25p/litre of milk sold and achieve a gross margin over 17p/litre.

Michel Kerouanton farms 33.5ha (83 acres) with his wife in northern Brittany and manages a herd of 28 Holstein Friesian cows. He is following a route many advisers from the regions agricultural department are now advocating.

Apart from a small area of vegetables and 4ha (10 acres) of feed wheat, 27ha (67 acres) is available for forage crops. One-third of the area is planted with maize, the rest is grass, some of which is round baled as hay to provide a high fibre buffer forage.

Advisers want producers to make more use of grazed grass in spring and summer to cut feed costs and maximise income from a limited amount of quota. Mr Kerouanton has 7276 litres of quota a cow; he would have to buy extra land with quota attached to it to increase production, as there is no official quota leasing in France.

Feeding begins as grazing declines from Sept 1; the maize clamp is opened. By Nov 15 cows will be on the 100% maize silage ration. Cows also receive 2kg DM of fodder beet a head a day from Nov 1 to Feb 20 when the new grazing season starts. By Apr 4 cows are out both night and day. A few days later the maize clamps are closed.

Forage production costs are low at just 3.25p/litre of milk sold with grass – some of which is white clover/rye grass leys – fertilised using organic matter such as pig slurry. Overheads are also low with machinery being shared with neighbours.

Grass variable costs are £19.80/ha (£8/acre) with an average yield of 9t DM/ha (3.6t DM/acre) while maize, including dressed seed are £177/ha (£71.60/acre) with an average yield of 11t DM/ha (4.45t/acre).

After maize has been harvested, a catch crop of Italian ryegrass is drilled. This is cut before it heads and is round baled and wrapped in May ahead of drilling maize. It provides a high quality forage and is often fed to heifers. Overall forage outputs accounts for 75% of the recorded milk output.

Both grazed grass and maize silage is supplemented with a home-mix concentrate. Each cow gets 2kg soya a day plus a milk production concentrate of one third soya and two thirds cereals via an automatic feeder.

At the height of grazing when cows are giving 25 litres a day each they receive just 47g of concentrates a kg of milk produced compared to 144g at the end of the season for the same level of production.

A total of 925kg of concentrate a cow is fed for an average recorded yield of 8121 litres. Actual milk sold was nearer 7000 litres a cow, the difference being antibiotic withdrawal, calf or domestic milk use, said Mr Kerouanton.

Like many producers the replacement rate of dairy cattle is high at 36% a year. But heifer calves have a low market value and the trade in cull cows, unlike the UK, is strong. Fertility may be a cause for some cows to be culled, however he said half the cows held to first AI service, which is usually 50 days after calving.

The financial performance of the unit is impressive. Variable costs account for just 29% of total output, fixed costs a further 51% leaving a profit of 20% before depreciation and interest charges.

USINGFORAGEWISELY

&#8226 28 cows on 33.5ha (83 acres).

&#8226 8121kg milk from 925kg conc.

&#8226 Good use of manure.

&#8226 Profit of 20%.

Michel Kerouanton is making good returns from 28 cows on 33.5ha (83 acres).