Low milk price calls for higher yield at less cost
Milk production costings for
March show some pleasing
improvements at Conyboro.
Suzie Horne reports
CONCENTRATE use has dropped in the dairy herd and both Bactoscan and somatic cell count scores have bounced back into the top band.
"We are not over the hurdle yet – we are in the right band, but cell counts went up to 216 at the weekend. Somatic cell count for the end of March was 150, while Bactoscans were 23," says manager, Duncan Rawson.
Margin over purchased feed, at 14.34p/litre, is down 1p on last March, but the gap is closing. It is now less than the drop in milk price year on year.
Milk price for March was 17.55p/litre, down 1.21p on March 1999. The dairy has warned of a milk price cut for April, but the farms co-op, Southern Milk Producers, has to give one months notice to members of price changes, so this will not affect margins until Mays results come through.
With further pressure on milk prices, the emphasis is still on getting more milk a cow, more cheaply.
In a bid to maximise output, milking times are gradually being extended so that a 12-hour interval is achieved. Milking is at 5am and 3pm, but the dairymen are not keen on the changes.
Rolling yield went up 72 litres last month in what is essentially a stale herd, points out Mr Rawson. "Daily production per cow has dropped a bit, but not by as much as I expected."
In fact the farms dairy consultant, Peter Andrews of SCATS, even had a call to inquire what he was feeding the Conyboro cows on after the gremlins struck in the last article which reported a 36-litre a cow a day average. The text should have read 26 litres.
Concentrate use at 0.19kg/litre, was well down in March, but is up on a rolling basis to 0.23kg/litre. "In October we had a month where we pushed the cows on cake to see what they would do and nothing happened.
"The aim is to reduce the cost of the ration while maintaining the quality. One way to do this would be to feed wheat in the ration," says Mr Rawson.
"We have made a conscious decision to reduce the forage area to maximise the IACS acres and to make up the shortfall with purchased feeds such as brewers grains, which we are feeding at the moment." Brewers grains have been costing £19/t through the winter, but the two most recent loads came in at £14/t.
Antiseptic wipes are being tried for a month pre-milking at a cost of 2.5p a cow a day, while Uddermint is being used initially on cows needing treatment for mild mastitis.
Mr Rawson would normally be looking at dairy feed prices for next winter but is unable to because of the GM issue. "I darent lock in to anything with soya in it," he says. "I like to buy a blend because it fits in with our storage, but it may be that we have to go to straights."
Everybody is looking forward to cows going out – they would be now but for the ground conditions. New chalk tracks, new fencing and levelling out of some very rutted tracks will make the job a lot easier and cleaner this spring.
A total of 5km of fencing will be done this year, and a piece of waste ground at one of the yards has been levelled and improved in advance of tree planting and the creation of a small paddock.
The funding for this has come from the £15,000 a year which the contract farming account has to spend on improvements, according to the agreement.
Silage ground has all had 100 units of Premier Cut (20.8.12) and both new and old crop Italian ryegrasses are flying, says Mr Rawson. Grazing grasses struggled to get going, but are now progressing.
Grass silage making will be staggered. Mr Rawson wants to cut the Italians relatively early in the final week of April to get optimum quality, and maize is due to go in after one 12ha (30-acre) block of Italian ryegrass.
There will then be a break until longer-term leys are cut and the same routine will apply for second cut.
Maize varieties this year will be Soltis and Aral again, along with a trial of Penstar, all through Grainseed.
The weather has frustrated arable progress. While everything is technically up to date, there are jobs that could be done if machinery could travel.
The wheats have all had chlormequat growth regulator, with the forward crops getting split applications and the others all a single dose. They are due for T1 sprays now.
Abbot, which has a bit of septoria and is slightly more advanced, had 0.5 litres/ha of Bravo with the growth regulator.
All T1 sprays will be Landmark at 0.3-0.4 litres/ha, while T2s will be based on an Amistar/Opus mix because of a higher rust risk in the south east – rates are yet to be decided. T3 sprays are likely to be based on Folicur and Opus.
"We have budgeted £20/acre for fungicide, but I would hope to do it for between £16 and £18/acre tailoring rates according to the weather."
The weather has also not been ideal for the Espace peas, drilled well on Mar 15 and 16. Since then it has been cold and wet. Bullet at 5 litres/ha has been used as the pre-emergence herbicide. *
• Conyboro Farms, in East Sussex, a 405ha (1002-acre) arable and dairy unit, farmed on five-year contract by Sentry Farming.
• Land is mainly weald clay with a small strip of greensand.
• Arable crops -all first wheats this season, also winter beans, peas, oats.
• 230-cow dairy, yielding 7400 litres a cow in year to July 1999.
• Calving mainly June to September. Total dairy forage area of 122ha (302 acres).
• Five full-time staff, including manager.