Recent figures show the top 15% of Kite Consulting’s clients are producing between 840-1,000kg of milk solids (MS) a cow a year.
Genetic data and management strategies were assessed from about 100 dairy farms involved with the Asda Pathfinder Group.
Within this group are 17 farmers taking part on the 1.5 Group, which looks at how cows can achieve production of 1.5kg of MS/kg liveweight – a level of production some the very best-performing dairy herds in the world are delivering.
David Levick from Kite Consulting explains what these farmers are doing differently to achieve such good yields and constituents which help increase their return.
He says it’s not just about driving milk constituents but instead improving a range of things from feeding and management, to lighting, ventilation and feed space.
Below are some common factors Kite has identified within this group as well as other high-production herds, as important to improving milk solids output.
1. Make the right sire selection for production
Don’t select bulls just on milk constituents.
“Given the emphasis put on this by some milk buyers, we’ve seen many farmers focusing totally on fat and protein percentages as their primary breeding goal and compromising on yield.
“In some cases, milk yield per cow has actually dropped, making overall milk solids per cow do the same or, at best, flat line,” says Mr Levick.
Production traits are highly heritable and a slight change in focus will make a huge difference very quickly.
High-producing herds are selecting sires that are both high production and transmit good constituents.
2. Breed from your best animals and not just heifers
Select the best possible genetics to make each cow place as efficient and profitable as possible.
In many cases we wrongly presume heifers have the best genetics and are therefore the best breeding stock, but this is nearly always not the case, says Mr Levick.
Usually, about 60% of heifers can be classed as genetically superior to the rest of the herd.
This means that if you leave the future development of your herd just in the hands of your heifers, about 40% will be well under par, he adds.
Herds using genomics across all youngstock to identify breeding animals achieve higher milk solids.
3. Practise multi-cut to produce high-quality forage
Herds that are producing high levels of milk solids are benefiting hugely from very high-quality forage, in the form of multi-cut silage.
This approach sees grass cut more regularly – possibly up to six times – but can help deliver better-quality silage which in turn improves intakes, drives constituents and can help lower concentrates.
Mr Levick says the target is to feed 60% high-quality silage in the diet.
4. Adopt compact feeding and get it right
Many of the high milk solids herds have fully adopted compact feeding and are reaping the rewards as a result.
Studies have shown that compact feeding, which involves soaking concentrates in water and pre-mixing, can increase yields but 1.6 litres a cow and lift butterfat.
But the key is doing it properly, Mr Levick stresses:
- High-quality silage is crucial
- It must be chopped at around 10mm length
- And, crucially, with a dry matter should not be less than 35%