Dairy farmers facing falling milk prices must improve efficiency of production to maintain profitability through close herd monitoring this summer.
According to technical manager of HST Feeds, Sion Richards, a series of quick monthly checks will ensure the focus remains on profit and not just litres.
“The combination of feed rate, milk quality, fertility and condition score checks gives a really good overview of the herd,” he says.
Mr Richards believes, a key driver of profitability is the number of cows calved. But more importantly, he says, is the number of cows served to calculate milk production in nine months’ time.
And although cows have finished in good condition this winter, it’s particularly important at this time of year to condition score about 10% of the herd monthly and assess any changes, says Mr Richards.
“As cows are on spring grass and we’re in a period of declining milk price, many farmers will be pulling back on concentrate feed, resulting in cows milking off their backs and losing condition.
“So what looks like fantastically efficient production today, will store up fertility problems nine months down the line.”
Twice as much food is needed to put on condition than to maintain it, adds Mr Richards, so regular checks could avoid additional feed costs later on.
“Our rapid herd assessment ascertains the feed cost per litre. We calculate the quantity of [milk] fat and protein and check for acidosis and ketosis risk, with a focus on healthy, efficient cows.
“The key is to drive efficiency – but how, depends on where the starting point is. Pulling back an already low feed rate, for example, is not going to help. The focus is knowing where you are and the you can work out where you need to be,” says Mr Richards.
The regular on-farm checks provide an early warning system, avoiding over or under feeding and a reduction in profitable milk production, he adds.
Milk from forage
The Dairy Group’s nutritionist Chris Savery says looking at feed costs and milk price a litre is key to moving forward.
“Farmers need to question what production they are getting from forage,” he says.
In the past it has been good to increase concentrates and see increased yields when the milk price was good, but things are changing and we need to be ready to counter that, explains Mr Savery.
“Everyone has the opportunity to look at how much purchased feed they use and the best way to control costs is to decrease this amount. Whether you’re using one tonne or three, cutting a quarter of a tonne would be good news in most cases.
“That is the art of being a stockman, judging when feed can be taken away. Think hard about the potential of the cows – there is no reason why obtaining more production for forage should be a problem,” he says.
According to Mr Savery, presentation of feed is vital. Is there enough? Is it fresh and well mixed? And can the cows reach it?
“It’s always difficult at this time of year as everything is so busy and things can slip. Small things can become critical issues to ensure the best returns.
“Farmers don’t need to be reminded about pushing up feed but it’s not the most exciting job. However, if the cow doesn’t want to eat what’s in front of her and wants the bit just out of reach, it is important,” he says.