19 September 1997


WHEN one Staffordshire producer weighed up various options for improving the feeding of his high yielding cows he found that changing to a total mixed ration was too expensive; out-of-parlour feeders were found to be the best bet.

Howard Edge reviewed his self-feed and easy-feed silage system because he wanted to maintain yields but stop milking three times a day. But without feeding concentrates more frequently he felt it would be difficult to maintain yields at 7400 litres a cow. Concentrates had been fed three times a day in the parlour and outside in a narrow trough with fodder beet once a day.

But the cost of changing his unit to accommodate complete diet feeding for the 200-cow herd at High Lanes, Brockton, Eccleshall, came to over £100,000.

This estimate took into account many of the factors that are often forgotten on dairy units when changing to complete diet feeding, explains the farms ADAS consultant Ewan McCombe.

The £100,000 figure included buying a mixer wagon, converting the silage barn to a feed yard with a trough because it was the only practical place to feed cows on the site, and the cost of building a new silage pit that would be needed.

Extra improvement

Mr McCombe claims that many producers predict extra improvement in margins and milk yield to justify these investment costs, but forget that extra quota is needed to cover the increased performance, and the changes can also increase labour, depreciation and machinery costs.

These capital expenses would reduce farm profit, and there are better investment options, such as buying quota, that can increase profit, he says.

Despite a switch to TMR feeding, Mr Edge would also have struggled to reduce his feed costs by using straights. Savings were already being made on concentrate costs thanks to membership of a buying group. And storing alternative feeds would require a vermin-proof building at additional cost.

"Reluctantly, we came to the conclusion that the costs of changing to a total mixed ration system were prohibitive," says Mr Edge.

Having decided that a mixer wagon was not an option, he considered out-of-parlour feeders. These could offer a better spread of concentrate feeding without changing the rest of the feeding system.

"You can achieve high yields with out-of-parlour feeders," says Mr McCombe. "In Holland producers are achieving 10,000 litres a cow with out-of-parlour feeders."

Mr Edge saw an advert for a nearly new six-unit out-of-parlour-feeding system that could also be linked to a parlour computerised recording system at a later date, and installed it in the cubicle shed in April. When fitted it cost less than a third of the £18,000 price for this system when new.

Out-of-parlour feeders

Concentrate for the out-of-parlour feeders is dispensed from the same bin as that for the parlour feeders. In the winter, cows will be flat rate parlour fed and topped up out of the parlour.

Herdsman, James Burr, is convinced that the new system will simplify management. With TMRs cows would ideally be kept in two groups because of the different feed requirements in the all-year-round calving herd.

"With a mixer wagon you must ensure the correct mix is fed and the danger is that concentrate levels are increased. While out-of-parlour feeders can also present difficulties, they provide another source of concentrate feeding and make it more difficult to overfeed concentrates," says Mr Burr. &#42


&#8226 High capital costs.

&#8226 More labour needed.

&#8226 May not increase profits.

Herdsman James Burr is pleased with how cows have settled to out-of-parlour concentrate feeding.

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