CROSSBREEDING BENEFITS are starting to emerge from Gelli Aur College’s attempt to achieve a high margin a litre of milk.

Of the Jersey crosses that now make up 40% of the herd, only one did not get in calf during the past service period. The herd”s overall empty rate fell from 21% last year to 10%, John Owen, who manages the Carmarthenshire farm, told visitors to the Farming Connect Project.

Feeding a little high energy feed last summer to maintain body condition is also believed to have helped conception. “With 30 new crossbred replacements in the pipeline, we now seem well on the way to our target of 5-6% empty cows.”

But Mr Owen still wonders whether he should have sold the Holsteins in the original herd and bought in cows more suited to the system. However, he is pleased that the 400-litre fall in average yield expected using crossbreds has not materialised.

Some of the Holstein Friesians in the herd are still getting back in calf and producing about 7000 litres. “Perhaps somebody should be using these adaptable families to breed bulls for herds trying to produce milk from forage.”

But his target is still to run Jersey crosses capable of producing 4000 litres a head from grazed grass when stocked at 3/ha (1.2/acre).

 Last year the 115 spring calvers averaged 5163 litres. With concentrate use increased from nothing to 420kg a cow, purchased feed cost 0.95p/litre. This cost and the 0.57p/litre fall in average milk price reduced profit to £2998, or 0.5p/litre.

“On these figures a farm employing one part-time helper and using a forage-based system would need to produce around 1m litres of milk to be viable,” says Mr Owen.

The average milk price generated by the college”s other herd, managed to produce a high margin a cow, rose by 0.77p/litre. But this was not enough to make Mr Owen happy with the financial results.

In 2004, 4.42p/litre was spent on purchased feeds for the 104-cow, 8400-litre herd. “But the last profit and loss account showed this high margin a cow herd made a profit of £2208, or 0.3p/litre, which was a poor return for the investment involved.

“We have to get average yield up to 9000 litres and try to get more milk from forage. This means turning out as soon as conditions are fine and dry, and making more use of grazed grass as soon as the seasonal milk price falls.”