French find a profit in grazed grass + maize

6 March 1998




French find a profit in grazed grass + maize

More than 300 farmers at

last weeks Maize Growers

Association conference,

Shepton Mallet, heard how

French farmers are

producing low-cost milk off

maize and grazed grass.

Sue Rider reports

RELIANCE on grazed grass plus maize-based rations in winter is earning some French dairy farmers in north-west Brittany £6600 more farm profit than their higher input counterparts.

These higher profit farmers are accepting lower yields of 6000-8000 litres off 730kg less concentrate than the average – generally less than 800kg is fed – and less maize is offered as a buffer in spring and summer. This means feed costs are 2p/litre lower than the average farm.

These French farmers believe that provided they can secure high intakes of high quality forage – most are achieving at least 14kg dry matter – they need place less reliance on expensive concentrates.

Confidence in forage – some farmers feed more than 90% maize in winter and extend the grazing season at both ends – has been helped by results of a low input trial at the dairying research centre in Brittany, Trevarez experimental farm.

Trial cows fed 650kg concentrate – 1t less than the control animals – gave about 6800 litres milk – 900 litres less – but earned an extra 1.2p/litre, or £2600 total farm profit (see table).

Feed costs were 3p/litre lower, cow health better, the cull rate 6% lower, and cull animals were worth an extra £70 a cow.

Speaking at the Maize Growers Association annual conference at the Bath and West Showground, Somerset, French extension worker with the Institute de lElevage, Valerie Brocard, outlined results of her research at Trevarez looking at reducing concentrate inputs.

Ms Brocards work is based on a survey of 12,000 Brittany farmers which showed little link between milk yield and profit a litre. Extra milk income was often swallowed up with extra costs.

The main aim of the six-year project was to improve profits of dairy farmers working with a set amount of milk quota – virtually non-transferable in France, she explained, placing emphasis on profit a litre of quota.

Split in two

In 1992, 8000-litre cows were split into two feeding groups. Control animals were fed 1.6t concentrates a cow a year; the low group 650kg.

Concentrate was made up of a soya-based protein balancer fed with the maize silage, and a production concentrate fed in the parlour.

The production concentrate was 22% protein for control animals, but 18% protein for the low input group. The lower protein % is to reduce peak production in early lactation, and potential fertility difficulties, while maintaining condition score.

The low group was fed a 85% cereal and 15% soya concentrate on the winter maize diet, and one of pure cereals when on summer/autumn grass.

Low input cows produced 1kg less milk for every 1kg of saved concentrate, but ate an extra 0.4kg forage/kg saved cake – eating 1kg a cow a dayof forage DM more than the control cows.

Maize was high quality at 32-35% DM, with the low input cows averaging forage intakes of 18kg DM, and some achieving 20kg DM. Protein balancer is fed as 165g of soya equivalent/kg DM maize. For example, cows eating 16.5kg DM maize silage would receive 2.7kg a cow a day of soya mixed with the maize, and 350g a cow a day of a 25/5 (calcium/phosphorous) ratio mineral.

Grazed grass and maize silage comprised more than half total DM intake of the low group – with 45-47% off grazed grass – to produce nearly 5500 of the total 6800 litres from forage.

Low input cows produced milk of similar protein content at 3.2% to the controls, but milk fat was 2% higher at 4.2%.

There was no difference between the two groups in condition score, lameness incidence and mastitis.

Low group cows showed better health, with less milk fever, and retained cleansings. Cull rate was lower at 18% versus 24%, and when culled animals worth £7 a cow more.

Fertility was slightly poorer for the low input group, with twice as many silent heats. But difficulties were overcome, explained Ms Brocard, by feeding a flat rate of concentrate after calving, and then stepping up that rate after the first service.

To fill the average quota of 200,000 litres, the low input group fed 900kg less concentrate and producing 800 litres less milk, required an extra two cows and 2ha (1 acre) of forage area.

"The impact on fixed costs remains very slight," explained Ms Brocard.

Although total output was £500 lower for the low group, total variable costs were £4350 lower – leaving an extra dairy gross margin of £3640. Assuming an opportunity cost of the extra 2ha of £500/ha, that leaves extra total farm profit of £2600, said Ms Brocard.

Overall, profit was up by £2600, or 1.2p/litre milk with feed costs down 3p/litre.

Comparison of performance off low and high concentrate inputs

Performance Highs Lows

Milk (kg) 7581 6739

Milk sold (kg) 6975 6200

Butterfat (kg) 418 439

Soya (kg) 415 455

Other concs (kg) 1211 190

Total concs (kg) 1626

Minerals (kg) 75 80

BF adjusted quota 200,000 192,650

Cows 28.7 31.1

Milk from forage 5100 5450

Ha needed 21.3 24.3

Milk price (p/l) 21.2 21.6

Gross margin (£) 3700

Profit (£) 2600

Comparison of performance off low and high concentrate inputs


Performance Highs Lows

Milk (kg) 7581 6739

Milk sold (kg) 6975 6200

Butterfat (kg) 418 439

Soya (kg) 415 455

Other concs (kg) 1211 190

Total concs (kg) 1626

Minerals (kg) 75 80

BF adj. quota 200,000 192,650

Cows 28.7 31.1

Milk from forage 5100 5450

Ha needed 21.3 24.3

Milk price (p/l) 21.2 21.6

Gross margin (£) +3700

Profit (£) +2600

Cows at Trevarz ex perimental farm, Brittany…winter rations comprise maize with a soya-based protein balancer. Grazed grass is fed in spring/summer.


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