gives flexibility

28 April 2000

A flying herd

gives flexibility

Fancy not having the hassle and expense of calf rearing,

worming and all that goes with youngstock? Running a flying

herd could be the answer. Marianne Curtis reports


&#8226 Flexibility.

&#8226 Rapid genetic gain.

&#8226 Extra £250/cow/year.

Flying herds can mean rapid genetic gain. Peter Nashs 80-cow herd has an average PINof £83 and produces an average yield of 8300 litres/cow.

THERE is much talk that bigger is better when it comes to dairy units. But one Leics producer with 80 cows on 32ha (80 acres) is defying the trend with a projected 1.28p/litre profit this year, after private drawings.

Peter Nash of Bracklands Farm, Newton Harcourt, believes a flying herd combined with judicious investment when times were better is helping him weather the industry crisis.

"I never wanted youngstock, I just wanted to milk cows," he says. "Running a flying herd provides more flexibility. You can replace animals when it suits, buy cows to suit seasonal payments and dont have to devote time and land to rearing youngstock."

Flying herds also make good business sense, says ADAS dairy consultant Alex Page. "Rapid genetic gain is possible and money invested in youngstock is released. It can lead to extra profit of £250/cow a year."

Mr Nashs year-round calving herd has an average PIN of £83 and has averaged 8289 litres in the last 12 months.

He became involved with ADAS when he began trading with the South Leics Milk Group in 1994. "The milk group contract was for low fat milk and I was primarily seeking nutritional advice. But I was also growing tired of spending nearly eight hours a day milking 130 cows in an old abreast parlour with inadequate housing."

Mr Nash redefined his business objectives following discussions with Mr Page. "I wanted an easier life and to make more money. I was producing a lot of milk but was having to spend large amounts to get it," says Mr Nash.

"We were seeking to reduce the cost base of the farm through investment, quota acquisition and improving infrastructure," adds Mr Page.

One area of the business draining money away was renting extra land for growing maize. "I grow about 30 acres of maize on the unit, but in 1994 I was renting an extra 60 acres at £130-£140/acre. This was particularly frustrating when the maize crop failed due to drought, as sometimes happened," says Mr Nash.

Now maize area has been cut to the 12-16ha (30-40 acres) grown at Bracklands Farm because it is cheaper to buy in feed, according to Mr Page. "In this area, it is easy to obtain by-products such as bread, costing £48/t. This is a cheaper option than growing maize on rented land and having to pay for contract harvesting."

Ration costs are now £1.74/cow a day based on a daily 32-litre average compared with £1.90/cow for 26 litres in 1994 (see box). Soya prices are roughly the same as they were then at £150/t, adds Mr Page.

As cow yields have risen, numbers have fallen and this – in combination with a 12/24 herringbone parlour installed in 1994 – means milking takes a fraction of the time it used to. A cubicle house was also built a year later.

"When the milk price was good, I ploughed money into improving the unit," says Mr Nash.

"Milking takes one-third of the time it used to and better buildings mean cleaner cows, cleaner milk and a more pleasant working environment."

Quota trading has also helped him repay loans, putting the business on a sound financial footing. Interest repayments are considerably lower than ADASs top 25% of herds in its Spotlight scheme, as is labour with Mr Nash running the enterprise himself.

A policy of acquiring quota means there are no leasing costs and despite lower milk prices, Mr Nash forecasts a profit of 1.28p/litre this year (see table 2).

Undoubtedly, the flying herd has contributed to what is an enviable situation during this current crisis. However, producers thinking of adopting a similar approach should exercise some caution.

"I source heifers and cows locally and never had any disease problems until last year. Several purchased heifers suffered a respiratory disease and I had to sell six."

Disease can be one of the biggest risk factors associated with flying herds and all animals entering the herd are vaccinated against lepto and IBR, and kept separate from the rest of the herd for about a month.

As well as disease risk, stock prices can also have a stronger influence on profitability in flying herds than in conventional herds.

"With a flying herd you are at the mercy of dairy cattle prices. At the moment they are relatively cheap, but at other times, especially when seasonal payments are involved, people will pay high prices for summer calvers," says Mr Nash.


&#8226 32kg maize.

&#8226 10kg brewers grains.

&#8226 7kg bread.

&#8226 4.5kg rape and soya.

&#8226 Vitamins and minerals.

Projected costings at

Bracklands Farm in 2000


Output 16.33

Variable costs 6.4

Wages 0.19

Power and machinery 4.36

Property charges 0.48

Sundry overheads 0.53

Rent 1.17

Quota leasing 0

Interest 0.63

Drawings 1.28

Profit 1.28

By-products such as bread waste, costing about £48/t, have kept dairy cow ration costs down at Bracklands Farm, says ADASs Alex Page

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