Selecting the right energy source and presenting rations correctly will help dairy producers increase profits this season
Feed is the largest variable cost on most dairy units, and it’s a cost that’s increased dramatically during the last year. However, it’s only when you look at the ration of milk price to feed cost that the scale of the impact becomes clear, says KW nutritionist Dr Richard Wynn.
“The graph (below) is based on DEFRA prices for a typical milk contract and the average compound feed, and although there’s a gradual decline over time, the latest, estimated figure shows an unprecedented low,” he explains.
The ratio doesn’t account for those producers receiving a higher milk price or those making good use of more cost-effective alternative feeds, but it also doesn’t include the large increase in the cost of making winter forage over the last five years. It’s therefore vital dairy units maximise their potential by operating as efficiently as possible – whether feeding during the winter or summer.
“Sitting back and ‘waiting for things to improve’ isn’t an option,” stresses Dr Wynn. “The key to cutting feed costs is not only to find the best value feeds available, but also to maximise feed efficiency to get the most milk possible from every pound spent on feed.”
Start by making sure all rations are properly formulated, with regular analysis of silage. Good forage clamp management is also vital to minimise waste.
“Cows should always be fed ad lib, but ensure any refusals are cleaned away before putting out a new mix to prevent stale feed tainting the fresh. Achieving higher feed intakes might seem like the wrong direction to take when feed prices are high, but if you can produce more milk a cow, a smaller proportion of all feed will be ‘wasted’ on cow maintenance.
“So whether you aim for a greater milk output, or the same milk output from fewer cows, it’s a more efficient system,” he adds.
Group cows so the highest quality feeds are fed to those in early lactation, with more of the outside ration fed to high yielders to cut the need for expensive concentrate in the parlour. Keep mixer wagon knives sharpened and avoid over, or under-mixing to optimise ration presentation and rumen function. Including a yeast will also guard against sub-acute ruminal acidosis (SARA) and all will improve feed efficiency.
And keep a close check on rumen function and cow health by regular monitoring of not just milk yield and milk quality (including urea levels), but also cow comfort (including lameness), feed intakes and dung condition. When anything starts to deviate from target, take immediate action to find the cause.
Do intakes or milk yields drop when relief staff are working the weekends? Has a fresh delivery of feed suddenly caused a change in dung consistency? ask Dr Wynn.
“When you want to optimise feed efficiency and minimise the cost a litre, keep asking questions and keep searching for the answers,” he says. “The same holds true when it comes to purchased feeds – keep challenging yourself to find a better value source of energy or protein, and don’t get caught out focusing on price a tonne alone.”
The table shows how to compare the energy costs of the best value feeds this spring, relative to wheat and barley. And it’s clear that confectionery blends (14.8p/10MJ ME) and wheat-derived molasses (15.4 p/10MJ ME), for example, will both help cut the cost of energy compared to feeding rolled wheat or barley (18.2p/10MJ ME).
“Look beyond traditional feeds to the wide range of alternative feeds or custom blends that are typically much better value,” advises Dr Wynn. “If you’re already taking delivery of a low dry matter moist feed like brewers’ grains, for example, then mix with a dry feed like wheatfeed or soya hulls during clamping to capture the nutrients that can be lost as run-off.”
Comparison of cereal costs with best value energy feeds this spring
Dry matter (£/t)
Value (MJ ME/kg DM)
Liquid feeds: 3
Wheat-derived molasses (Rouxminate)
British beet molasses
Starch feeds: 4
Confectionery blend (Formula One)
Digestible fibre feeds: 4
1 Prices quoted correct at time of going to press, will vary with load sizes and distance from source.
2 Home-grown (i.e. excludes any cost of delivery), price includes £10/t processing cost.
3 10t bulk loads delivered on-farm within 50 miles of source.
4 29t bulk loads delivered on-farm within 50 miles of source.