Ten small steps to improve your herd efficiency

The aggregation of marginal gains could make all the difference to dairy farm efficiencies during periods of lower milk price, says Mole Valley Feed Solution’s Robin Hawkey. 

“No matter how good any system is, a range of small gains all add up to make a significant difference,” he says.

“There are a number of potential areas for consideration; the importance of which will vary depending on individual farm system and milk contract. I would suggest picking two or three from the following list, depending on which will give the best return for the necessary investment on your farm.”

1. Milk yield or quality?

Look at your contract, do the maths and establish if it’s yield or constituents that pay. You may think it’s constituents, but in some cases, those extra litres may make all the difference.

Be clear though on your key objectives. Work with your nutritionist and vet to see how you can achieve targets.

2. Ration minerals

Many rations include a standard mineral, which could mean you are over feeding unnecessary minerals or not providing cows with what they need. Test soils and forages to identify mineral balances and deficiencies on your farm and design a bespoke mineral. It could save you money and improve health.

See also: Fullwood launches all-electric robotic milker

3. Calving pattern

Does your peak milk production level correspond with the best milk price? Look at your production profile and assess it.

On block calving systems it may be worth calving some cows slightly earlier or later to benefit from a more favourable milk price. On all year round systems ask if it fits with your cash flow.

4. Forage use

Forage isn’t free. A 1,000t clamp valued at £30/t is worth a total of £30,000. If you’re losing 10% in wastage that equates to a loss of £3,000, or about 0.3-0.5p/litre.

Think about efficiencies of harvesting, ensiling, feeding and cow use. Also, if your milk from forage is under 30% think about ways to improve it.

5. Accurate feeding

How accurately is the mixer being loaded? Overfeeding creates unnecessary cost, while underfeeding could compromise performance and health.

Consistency is crucial for cows so explain to staff why it’s important and get them to record loads. Also ensure feeders are calibrated and mixer wagons maintained.

6. Monitoring

Monitoring is crucial to ensure you are rationing as cost effectively as possible. A Koster moisture tester, which is like a mini oven, can be a good tool to monitor individual forage dry matters and the total mied ration (TMR) mix regularly. 

Target 48-52% TMR DM – if it’s too wet it will be low in energy density and could compromise production. If it’s too dry it will result in sub optimal intakes.

7. Manure scoring

Manure scoring is an effective way to assess whether the ration is being used effectively by the cow. It can also help pick up signs of acidosis early before cow health and feed use efficiency is compromised.

As well as monitoring consistency, simple dung sieving can identify undigested fibre and grains that indicate efficiency of digestion.

8. Dry cow management

The transition period sets the cow up for a successful lactation. Small things can make all the difference and prevent metabolic problems, which are gateway diseases to a host of other issues.

Can you can improve feed space, trough management and minimise stress from group movements?

9. Cost effective heifer rearing

Calving heifers at 24 months is by far the most cost effective. Ask yourself if you can improve calving-in age and if you are actually achieving targets.

Ensure heifers are 60% of mature weight at service and 85% of mature weight at calving or she will struggle after calving. 

10. Fertility

How many cows do you have in the herd over 350 days in milk? These stale cows are giving little milk, taking up space and management time, and eating more than they need. Look at how many cows you are pushing round and conception statistics to assess potential areas for improvement.

For more information see also: Ration consistency is key to-getting more milk.htm

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