Better forage use may lift margins 90p a cow a day

Ensure rations are well balanced, account for variations in age of forage and avoid finely chopping, say Keenan Nutritionists.

More efficient use of forage could increase margin over all purchased feeds by 90p a cow a day, according to data collected from 30 herds in November.

The average herd monitored by Keenan Rumans for feed efficiency had 155 cows in milk and the top 25% of herds in the sample generated margins £1000 a week higher than the 30-herd average.

When the margins of the top-three and bottom-three herds were compared, the gap was £1.90 a cow a day, which on a herd basis was worth £9000 over the month.

Keenan Rumans nutritionist Hefin Richards urged farmers at an on-farm Exploiting Home Grown Energy seminar at Lowdy Hall Farm, Ullingswick, Herefordshire, to question whether their management was good enough to take full advantage of rising milk prices.

Cow on sand

Increasing forage intakes allowed herd managers to boost production from feeding a given levelof concentrates, or to maintain output while cutting concentrate use.

“This issue has become critical as grain prices, along with other energy feeds, surge towards £200/t,” Mr Richards claimed.

He advised farmers to consider all factors that could lower feed efficiency. A starting point was ensuring rations were well balanced by taking account of variations in forage quality, which meant knowing exactly what had been clamped.

It was important to avoid including poor forages. Cows might eata mix containing mouldy or wet maize silage, but intake would be reduced and rumen function upset.

“The modern cow lives on the edge of an energy crisis, particularly in the first 100 days of her lactation, so forage maize is a valuable feed that can replace grass silage in rations for high yielders.”

But it must be high quality and not too finely chopped when large amounts are used. Research shows that finely-cut TMRs depressed butterfat and rumination time, and increased rumen acidity.

It was important that all components of complete rations were good quality, Mr Richards said. Intakes were also influenced by cow health, comfort, trough space, design and cleanliness, safe walkingsurfaces and the provision of about 120 litres a cow a day of clean water.

It should be obvious to any herd manager entering a building whether cows were stressed or content. At night 70% of them should be lying and cudding. “When they are not comfortable they will not eat enough or milk well. We need to monitor and measure performance to spot problems early,” he added.

Consultant Francis Dunn of Field Options warned the NK Seeds – Keenan Rumans organised meeting that maize growing costs would be about £93/ha (£37.50/acre) higher in 2008.

Mr Dunn put the cost a tonne of DM of a 44.5t/ha (18t/acre) crop at £55.41, which would fall to £41.80 for a 59t/ha (24t/acre) crop. Similarly, the quality bonus available from increasing the ME of an 44.5t/ha (18t/acre) crop ensiled at 35%DM from 10.7 to 11.1 would be £15.10/t DM.

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