Production costs soar at Thornton Grange, despite milk price hype

Peter Chapman wants to finish building his new milking parlour by the end of May and is having to leave most of the milking to his assistant, Dave Grainger.

The roof is now in place and the breeze-block work is nearly finished.

But plans have been extended beyond a simple parlour building, to include an office toilet, medicine store and handling system.

All the walkways have had a non-slip finish applied with a Hexroller tool.

This has left a 5cm hexagonal pattern on all floor surfaces apart from a small area visited at a crucial stage by the farm collie.

It’s an expensive detail, but Mr Chapman reckons the investment will be worthwhile if it prevents just one serious cow injury from slipping.

It should also reduce minor injuries, which can often lead to significant production losses, he points out.

Thornton Grange milk production figures

Rolling margin over purchased feed £1,030/cow
Feed cost 4.3p/litre
Feed kgs/litre 0.3
Milk value £1,280/cow
Rolling average milk price 17.75p

Adding these extra features has pushed up the final cost – which has not yet been calculated – but they will help the farm comply with assurance standards, and avoid additional disruption at a later stage.

“Doing most of the work ourselves has kept costs down, but the project has taken a long time.

“The delay means the building won’t qualify for the full 4% Agricultural Buildings Allowance, which is being phased out, as announced in the Chancellor’s recent budget.

“This decision by Gordon Brown has effectively cost the business in the region of £20,000, because we would previously have been able to offset some of the expense against tax over the next 20 years.”

Peter is one of many Arla producers shocked to discover that his returns have gone down in real terms over the past 12 months, despite all the publicity surrounding price rises.

“In April 2006, I produced 108,000 litres and received 18.61p/litre. If I hadn’t incurred penalties because of a slip in Bactoscan results, I would have actually been paid 19.21p for achieving the top price.

“But this April, I was only paid 18.63p/litre for 109,700 litres, despite hitting the highest price band.

“The reason given is that 0.7p/litre has been taken off for balancing. It was supposed to be reinstated on 1 April, but that hasn’t happened.

“Apparently, Arla producers will be paid 0.4p/litre extra from this June, but that won’t make up for the loss, and my production costs have risen by 1.3p/litre since last spring.”

With the planned increase in cow numbers from 160 to 200, Peter is tightening up on every aspect of management, and calving interval is the latest figure to come under scrutiny. The current rolling average is 420 days, but he hopes to reduce it to 380 days during the next 12 months.

So far, cows have hit this target six months in a row. Mr Chapman’s wife Jane has taken over the task of managing cow fertility.

“Jane has been making list of cows due to be served each week, as well as those due to return to service at 21 and 42 days,” he says.

“She also marks them with a paint stick, as well as looking round every day to see if anything’s bulling.

“Everyone is more aware of fertility issues, and we are paying greater attention to cow behaviour. It’s good that we’ve made progress, but the challenge now is to keep up the momentum.”