Livestock 2015: Grazing cows could help reduce dairy costs

Dairy farmers hit by low milk prices could save up to £2.50 a cow a day by turning cattle out to graze.

Piers Badnell, extension officer from AHDB Dairy, said even though cows yields would fall at grass the cost savings realised from not having to house cows and feed TMR would more than make up the deficit.

He said that if a cow yielding 30 litres/day dropped to 25 litres/day at turnout that would equate to £1/day loss based on a milk price of 20p/litre.

However, if farmers were saving £2.50 a head a day on feed and £1.50 a head a day on housing costs it would still equate to a saving of £3 a head a day.

“The current milk price range is 10-12p/litre so there’s an opportunity for many farmers to reduce their costs,” Mr Badnell advised.

Five tips for making the most out of tail-end summer grass

  1. Make sure grass is good quality by managing grazing covers.
  2. Understand how much milk cows are producing and work out what cows’ energy requirements are (see ‘How to calculate energy requirements’, left).
  3. If you are supplement feeding it is better to supplement with concentrate in the parlour rather than bulkier TMR so cows still have the appetite to graze.
  4. If grass is getting away from you, you could pre-mow and wilt grass before turning cows in to the field to clear it up or you could bale it.
  5. Don’t buffer feed unless you really have to – it makes cows lazy grazers. Buffer feeding should only be fed to high-yielding animals (30 litres or more) or if there is a shortage of grass.

See also: Why buffer feeding is not always the answer

Mr Badnell said when milk prices are low it is more profitable to graze cows, because farmers lose less money if they take a hit on yields.

But Mr Badnell said it was imperative for each business to do the figures before deciding to turn cows out.“If the milk price is 30p/litre then that equates to a loss of £1.50 a head a day when yields fall by 5 litres in comparison to just £1 a head a day if the milk price is 20p/litre.”

“The majority of time it will pay but do your own figures.”

How to calculate energy requirements

  • Step one: A Holstein/Friesian cow requires 10% of her bodyweight plus 10 MJ of ME a day for maintenance for example 600 x 100 = 6 x 10 = 60 + 10 = 70 MJ ME
  • Step two: 5.3 MJ ME is required to produce one litre of milk at 4% fat and 3.3% protein
  • Step three: If a cow eats 14kg of grass at 12ME that will provide her with 168MJ ME (14 x 12 = 168)
  • Step four: When you take away the maintenance she will be left with 98MJ ME (168-70 =98)
  • Step five: She will be able to produce 18.5 litres of milk (98mj/5.3mj =18.5)
  • Step six: But she is required to produce 30 litres so there is a shortfall of 12.5 litres (30-18.5=12.5)
  • Step seven: 12.5 litres x 5.3mj = 66MJ
  • Step eight: Additional feed required is: 5.5kg of concentrate x 12ME = 66MJ

Read more news from the Livestock Event 2015