Dairy classification scheme set to aid feed efficiency

A classification scheme for dairy farms is being developed based on herd feeding and management practices to enable targeted benchmarking and support for farmers.

This is the first step in a five-year project to increase whole-farm feed efficiency, which is part of a research partnership between the University of Nottingham and AHDB Dairy.

Currently, feed efficiency is based on milk output per unit of feed input for the milking herd, while in reality feed is also consumed by non-milking animals such as dry cows, herd replacements and bulls, not to mention the effects of feed quality and wastage.

Feed costs are one of the greatest costs per litre of milk produced, at 9.3p/litre on average.

See also: Target greater dairy feed efficiency instead of cutting ration costs

The research partnership believes if dairy farms were to make small reductions in the use of feed and maintain or improve milk output then this would improve feed efficiency across the dairy sector.

Cost saving

This will represent a significant cost saving on dairy farms and an improvement in competitiveness of the British dairy sector.

Phil Garnsworthy of the University of Nottingham explains. “Feed efficiency generally increases with increasing milk yield, but for any production system there is an optimum marginal efficiency beyond which it is uneconomic to chase further increases in milk yield.

“Market volatility can affect the optimum, and leaves producers facing tough decisions about whether and how to adapt their feeding and management strategies in order to get the best margin from available contracts and market options.”

Performance indicators

This project will set up key performance indicators for whole farm feed efficiency in five categories of a production system. These five categories have been defined based on days grazing, calving patterns and feeding approach.

“The end result will be a set of farmer-friendly guidelines on how to calculate whole-farm feed efficiency,” says AHDB Dairy’s senior scientist, Jenny Gibbons.


Farmers will be able to benchmark the results with the system potential and similar farms, and consider which practices would benefit most from attention.

Dr Gibbons adds: “The majority of farmers should be able to identify some simple cost-effective changes that would make a difference to whole-farm feed efficiency and margins.

Farmers will also be able to assess potential opportunities to increase margins by altering feed efficiency in response to changes in market prices for feed and milk.”

Classification of Great British dairy farms


System 1

System 2

System 3

System 4

System 5

Calving pattern


Block/All year

Block/All year

All year

All year

Grazing days 

> 274 days

183 to 274 days

91 to 182 days

0 to 90 days


Feeding approach

Limited supplements

More use of supplements

Mixed ration supplements

Mostly mixed ration

All mixed ration

Data will be collected during 2017 to ensure the category definitions are appropriate and also to help drive the development of the key performance indicators.

Important drivers in whole farm feed efficiency will include feed intake by youngstock, mortality, health, heifer growth rates and age at first calving.