Staff communication is essential for dairy profitability

To some, the catchphrase “attention to detail” sends shivers down spines.

It immediately suggests a number of ambiguous factors no-one can put a name or value to. But by attributing monetary values to each area, considerable benefits can be seen, as attendees learned at a recent Kite Consulting farm walk in Wiltshire.

Aimed at providing dairy farmers with a forum for both discussion and learning, the event was held at Cockroost Farm, home of the Hinton Holstein Herd run by Robert Horton alongside sons James and Tom.

The trick is to determine and maintain a sustainable, but high level of attention to detail, achievable by both farm and workforce, reckoned strategic and business management consultant for Kite, Edward Lott.

“Producers should be aware that to both improve and maintain high levels of efficiency they must ensure all members of the team maintain the same standard of management. This applies equally to family-run enterprises and to those employing staff,” he reckoned.

Core values

“At Cockroost Farm, high standards and cleanliness are core values of the farm and every member of the dairy team is involved in the decision making process.”

And this doesn’t just apply to staff on the farm, it is equally important to integrate external resources into management programmes, with consultants and vets involved on a regular basis with all members of staff.

As dairy businesses have expanded, one thing that has largely been overlooked is staff management, Mr Lott explained to delegates. “Team members should have clear areas of responsibility, coupled with recognition that any investment made is for their benefit as well as the owner or manager,” he added.

Following through with this ethos is not always easy, particularly when you rely on teams of contractors for one of your main inputs, conserved forages. Coupled alongside consistent rises in costs of concentrate and cereals, producers should be concentrating on growing as much of the ration as possible on-farm, advised Kite’s Mike Bray.

“For most, maize is the cheapest forage to both grow and ensile and so should make up a large proportion of the ration.

Achievable

“But for areas where grass growth is achievable, grazing still remains essential and particular attention should be paid to reseeding high digestibility varieties and overall grass management.”

Producers should bear in mind managing off-farm services, such as machinery contractors. “Book silage gangs early, so you are first, or near the top of their list. Remember, the following winter’s profitability rests on what is put in the clamp, so getting it rolled and ensiled as quickly as possible is paramount,” adds Mr Bray.

Those growing forage on farm were advised to pay close attention to crops, particularly when planning fertiliser applications in response to a continual rise in oil prices.

Partly in response to this, the Hortons have installed a sand separator to both make better and more accurate use of manure and recycle sand, which currently costs £20,000 a year in replacement sand for cubicles. “Separating slurry enables us to calculate accurate application rates, allowing us to significantly reduce fertiliser use.”

The initial investment of £140,000 may sound substantial, but, the investment will be paid back in 42 months, calculates James Horton.

Savings

“We are basing this figure on expected savings of £40,000 a year by recycling sand, reducing fertiliser bills and less labour. Added to this is the challenge to meet forthcoming NVZ stipulations, expected to put more pressure on slurry storage, something we have alleviated by installing the separator.”

Having invested in growing crops, this investment should not be thrown away post ensiling and waste minimisation is essential at all stages, commented Mr Horton. “We have recently bought in crimped maize, which we have rolled and clamped as we would a crop of our own. There is no point in buying in something only to lose a percentage of it through waste.”

Having struggled to achieve high protein levels growing whole-crop peas, Italian ryegrass now replaces them in the rotation.

“At the end of the day, it all comes back to dry matter yield and the most efficient way of achieving that, year in year out.”

In growing a large percentage of the diet, producers should be aware of the dangers associated with feeding a high starch ration, which is inevitably the case, as the easiest forages grown are energy based, such as maize, explained nutrition adviser Chris Laycock.

“Maize, whole-crop and caustic treated cereals are all strong components which can be grown on farm. Crimped maize is now becoming more popular and readily available with varieties being developed to suit the UK.”

And although biofuels pose a threat to feed prices, there will be a number of readily available by-products from processes, similar to Trafford Gold, made available on the feed market.

But producers need to be aware of the dangers associated with feeding high starch diets, warned Mr Laycock. “Watch and observe cows on a regular basis to pick up signs the diet might need adjusting. Modern mixer wagons have made a considerable difference to TMR feeding, however, be aware that mixing too long with blades will distort the original ration.”

“Watch closely for symptoms of acidosis, a condition caused by feeding high starch diets, which could lead to laminitis and cystic ovaries,” he added. “Variation in daily intake, inconsistent dung formation and cud ball spitting are all signs of possible cases. Seeing mucus in the dung is also an indication.”

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