Pushing for that extra litre

Pushing for that extra litre is something many dairy farmers may consider doing but may not achieve the goal due to doubts about cost effectiveness, something that was raised in a recent farmer survey, according to Volac’s technical specialist, Mike Rogers.

With 60% of respondents expressing a desire to produce more milk, more than a third were concerned it may not be cost-effective to do so, he says. “They offered a variety of reasons why, including wanting to keep their systems simple, a reluctance to change when cow performance was satisfactory and a fear that increasing yields would lead to increased health and fertility problems.”

However, despite what some may believe, increasing yields can allow variable and fixed costs to be spread over more litres, so it may be worth considering this as a financial strategy, he adds.

Every individual dairy unit’s circumstances are different and the route to higher yields is varied.

“Any changes in the diet being considered to improve yield should be based on proven cost-effective results without any detrimental effects to the cow. The key driver to producing the extra cost-effective litre is energy and the energy source has to be in a form the cow can use effectively and safely,” says Mr Rogers.

There are four main areas to consider when driving for that extra litre: determining feed ingredients’ nutritional values, maximising energy intake, maximising rumen potential and minimising health and fertility issues, he suggests.

One of the major areas to consider is understanding the characteristics of the diet’s raw materials, in particular silages, explains Mr Rogers. “Given the challenges over the past few winters with variable forages and how they have performed in cows’ rations, it may be worth involving a feed advisor to accurately predict the diet’s ability to produce cost-effective milk,” he says.

But, to make more energy available for milk production and body condition, nutrient supply needs to be maximised, by increasing dry matter intake and/or stepping up the diet’s energy density.

“One way to increase energy delivered to the cow is by feeding an economical bypass energy source. Proven rumen protected fats contain 2.5 times the energy concentration of cereals and are one of the most cost-effective ways of increasing milk yield this winter. Also, being protected from rumen degradation, this fat does not disrupt the rumen bugs and the energy is supplied direct to the small intestine for digestion,” he says.

However, energy must be balanced properly, warns Mr Rogers. “Feed carbohydrates and sugars are soluble and, therefore, quickly fermented in the rumen, while also providing adequate digestible and physical fibre to ensure the rumen is adequately buffered to help sustain microbial growth. However, feeding more “cheap” starch, in the form of cereals, than the rumen can result in a fall in rumen pH and development of sub-acute acidosis. This is an example of what looks like a cost-effective means of improving yield when, in fact, it has a detrimental effect on cows’ health,” he says.

And energy is not only the driver for yield, but also helps alleviate health and fertility problems, says Mr Rogers. “Correctly balanced energy sources will reduce the potential for development of acidosis and laminitis, and increasing the cow’s energy intake and body condition score can improve conception rates. Feeding an appropriate protected fat supplement can be particularly effective,” he advises.

“Pushing for that extra litre can be achieved cost-effectively and at minimal risk. High genetic merit cows should be considered akin to Formula 1 racing cars, requiring high quality inputs and monitoring for signs of malfunction if they are to perform to their capacity.”

Calculating whether pushing for that extra litre is cost effective

Yield group




Very high

Milk/cow/lactation (litres)





Milk value/cow/lactation (£) at 26ppl





Concentrate costs (£)





Variable costs (£)





Margin: milk over concentrates (£)





Source: John Nix Farm Management Pocket Book 2009

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