Skilled grass use pays in £s
Can improving grazing
management lead to higher
profits? Jessica Buss found
out at a recent DRC grazing
conference at Harper Adams
MANAGING dairy herds for low cow milk production can be successful.
Between turnout and housing last year one producer knocked almost 3p/litre off his rolling 12-month production costs.
Speaking at a DRC grazed grass subject day at Harper Adams college, Shropshire, Ian Browne of the Farm Consultancy Group said that aiming to lower production costs was one way to make more money and stay in business. But for most that meant managing a change, which was difficult.
"The most difficult is a change of attitude. But you cannot change from cake to an all-grass in one year." Use resources available as well as possible and focus on profit and maximising use of grazing. "This needs a high level of management skill, but getting it right brings high rewards."
But it was also important to minimise risks and some producers should not take the grazed grass route. However, lower milk prices meant you could not sit on the fence now, he added.
He cited one producer managing grass intensively for the past two years who had increased comparable farm profit from 4.31p to 6.57p/litre. That was despite milk price falling by 0.47p, on an annual rolling basis, between turnout and housing. Production cost have, therefore, reduced by 2.73p in nine months.
These savings were mainly total feed costs, cut by 1.45p/litre; wages, 0.62p; power and machinery, 0.3p; and bedding costs, 0.12p less.
Mr Browne calculated that keeping cows out and not feeding or bedding every day was worth £1.27 a cow a day.
He added that another nine producers he provided consultancy for were also lowering their production costs in this way. "It is frightening how much money we lost in the past by going up the high production route," he said.
To successfully increase reliance on grazing it is important to focus on providing high quality grass, growing more by rotational grazing.
Those using rotational grazing well grew 25-30% more grass, contrary to research results, said Mr Browne. They achieved that because it was easier to control grass and assess what was ahead of cows.
But do not focus on cow yield, he warned. "It is how many cows you keep that counts. Otherwise you will be disappointed with the results."
He also urged producers to join a self-help group. "It will give you faith and confidence. Comparing notes with people in your area will help. But your cake company wont."
He now believed that with better grass management it was possible to avoid silage and buffer feeding except for three or four months a year. That meant less silage was required and it should be made only as a grazing management tool.
It is also important to have enough paddocks to avoid compromising regrowth and good access to grazing with low cost tracks. "And assess all fields on the farm every week so you know what you have to give cows and what they are eating."
But remain flexible by using electric fencing, grazing for short periods in wet weather and being prepared to change grazing plans depending on the weather.
• Needs attitude change.
• Successful for many.
• Forget cow yields.