Feed management will help control rising costs

Rising cereal prices and poor quality silage as a result of wet weather during June and July are causing many farmers headaches as they start to plan next winter’s rations.

However, there may not be as much cause for concern as many believe providing feed is used efficiently and maximum value is gained from feed inputs, reckons Keenan Rumans nutritionist Mark Voss.

“Feed conversion efficiency will be key to making the most of feeds this winter and could help keep costs in check,” he explains.

“Where rations are correctly formulated and novel ingredients are considered it may be possible to cut feed costs a tonne compared to last year and once feed conversion is improved through better rumen function, there could be more savings to be made.

“Just last week I prepared a winter ration and managed to cut costs by £2/t DM compared to last year. It’s possible this unit will also be able to increase FCE and if that can be lifted from 1.2 litres/kg DM to 1.3 then feed cost will fall by 0.5p/litre, a significant saving bearing in mind some farmers are expecting feed cost increases of 1.5-2p/litre.”

Countering feed costs

  • Boost feed conversion
  • Crimped grain an option
  • Mix silages if possible

Controlling costs

Independent nutritionist David Jacklin, meanwhile, believes it may be difficult for some units to improve efficiencies beyond where they are now. “Rising feed costs could add up to as much as 1p/litre for a herd averaging 9000 litres a cow and to find ways of making feed use more efficient in these herds can be difficult.”

But while the temptation may be to source cheaper straight feeds for inclusion in rations, Mr Jacklin warns this could be a false economy in many cases. “Soya is currently trading at about £175/t, which is dear, but while rapeseed meal may be cheaper, when you analyse the protein content of both feeds, soya is cheaper per unit of protein.”

Improving FCE by 0.2 could yield savings in the region of 1.3p/litre. “This will more than cancel out likely increased feed costs.”

This year’s wet start to harvest could also present challenges and Mr Jacklin suggests crimped grain may be a better option for some, allowing cereals to be harvested when moist, while still providing an extremely valuable feed. “However, farms need to ensure they can store these products well or their feed value may be wasted. Other alternatives include caustic and urea treating wheat to preserve it, both of which can be done with moist grain.”

On the silage front he believes many dairy units in the north of England will have reasonable first cuts, but poorer second crops which will have been snatched in between bouts of rain. “Where it can be managed it may be better to mix the various cuts to ensure poorer quality silage isn’t left to be fed in one lump.

Clamp management

“Clamp face management will have to be good, but it can be managed. Alternatively, for late summer and autumn calving herds it may be possible to save this poorer crop for next spring, later in cows’ lactations, or for buffer feeding at grass next spring.”