Cheap grass does not always mean cheap milk

Cheap grass does not always mean cheap milk, according to results from 30 monitor farms released at Grassland and Muck Event 2011.

Speaking at the event Bruce Forshaw, System Specialist with Keenans explained how getting the most from grazing required close attention to detail and monitoring of performance, especially in a difficult growing season such as the one currently being experienced.

He also added that focussing on maximising feed efficiency (FCE) was as important as controlling/reducing feed costs if margins were to be optimised.

“Too many farmers, relieved that winter is over, adopt a rather over-relaxed approach to converting feed into milk when the cows are turned out.  Simply looking to maximise grazing intakes will not always lead to the best margins.  Cheap milk does not always follow from cheap grass.

“Maximising grazing margins requires the same rules of cost-consciousness and feed management as are applied when cows are housed, especially given the variations in grazing quality and quantity that can occur on an almost daily basis.”

Mr Forshaw stressed how the key was to maximise total intakes and FCE, which is calculated as the litres of energy corrected milk produced for every kg DMI.  This requires close monitoring of grass availability in order that supplementary feeds are increased and decreased as required.

“A failure to adjust buffer feed levels can result in either cows going short of feed, or unnecessarily high feed costs depending on actual grass availability.  Both are economically unacceptable situations.

“The monitor farms have been using the Keenan PACE system to monitor achieved grass intakes against actual milk yields and amend the quantities of supplementary feed accordingly. They have also been able to measure FCE to ensure they are getting the best return from the diet.

“The results from last season, and so far this season show that maximising FCE at grazing is directly correlated to higher margins.  This year each 0.1litre/kgDM increase in FCE has been worth an additional 54p/day in margin.

 “With margins being squeezed it is imperative that farmers manage the use of feed to deliver optimum yields and maximum margins.  Those who measure FCE are more likely to achieve acceptable margins this summer and successfully accommodate variations in grazing output,” Mr Forshaw added.

* For more stories, pictures and videos from Grassland & Muck 2011.