What dairy farms can learn from each other’s systems

There is no one right dairy system to suit all farmers – but there’s plenty that different producers can learn from each other. Whether you’re grazing extensively or fully housed, the goals are the same: to maximise herd health and productivity at minimal cost.

But there is no single way to do that. It comes down to incremental gains – from improving fertility and feed conversion to trimming labour and fuel costs. And that, according to Kingshay dairy specialists, is where it’s possible to pick up tips from other producers, regardless of whether they are operating the same system as you.

It has carried out a survey of 457 farmers with almost 89,000 cows to identify trends within systems to enable benchmarking and find areas in which they can improve.

Top tips for reducing input costs

  • Grazed grass is clearly the cheapest option, but you could also feed more forage by improving silage quality, or cut and feed fresh grass to housed cattle.
  • Choose an appropriate breed – consider cross-breeding to boost efficiencies
  • Consider whether grass leys need reseeding to improve quality and productivity. The difference in grazing 12ME and 11ME grass equates to about 2.5 litres a cow a day
  • Measure grass growth weekly to plan grazing/cutting rotation and boost grass yields by up to 45%
  • Design farm tracks and water access for maximum grazing flexibility
  • For most herds, producing more milk from forage will reduce costs and increase profitability.

Kingshay dairy consultants ranked each sector by milk from forage, and identified seven systems, characterised by calving pattern and if there was a focus on housing or grazing.

They found that no one system outperformed all others. Here is a summary of the results.

Key trends

1. Yield

All-year calving, housed herds had the highest yield, with spring calving, grazed herds bringing up the rear.

However, yield – while critical to incomes – is only one side of the equation. The cost of producing that yield is the equally important balancer.

2. Milk from forage

Fifteen per cent of all farms produced more than 4,000 litres of milk from forage – including farms in each of the seven systems. This clearly demonstrates that system doesn’t matter.

Worryingly, 10% of herds were achieving less than 1,000 litres from forage, with a further 16% getting less than 2,000 litres.

Encouragingly, almost all of the farms want to produce more milk from forage, with 83% targeting a modest to large increase, both from grazing and preserved forage.

3. Grazing days

In most groups, the top 25% of producers grazed for the longest, while the bottom 25% grazed for the shortest period.

All-year calvers with a grazing focus only grazed 210 days a year, compared to 265 among the spring calving group. Could the all-year calvers make more of their grazing land?

Given that only 31% of the cows’ intake was from grazing – half that of the spring calvers and only slightly above block calvers with a housing focus – that might be a good area on which to focus.

4. Grass quality

Even where the top producers grazed for a shorter period of time, they still had the highest grass and forage intakes, demonstrating the value of good quality grass and silage.

5. Forage and feeding

Farmers in the bottom 25% were most likely to be using a mixer wagon, with the top 25% preferring easy and self-feed systems.

6. Future plans

Many farms planned to invest in housing and grazing infrastructure, with the bottom quartile the least likely to invest. Many also plan to increase yields and herd size.

7. Grazing limitations

The most common limitations are limited accessible grazing area, poor track access and heavy land.


Comparison of yields across different grazing systems


Spring calving: grazing

Block calving: grazing

Block calving: housing

All-year calving: grazing

All-year calving: housing

Organic: Low/moderate yield

Organic: High yield

Annual yield (litres a cow)








Yield from forage








Milk solids from forage per ha (kg)








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