20 November 1998


By Jessica Buss

IMPROVED feeding on one Glos unit has increased cow yield, maintained milk margins despite a lower milk price, while almost half a straw of semen less is needed for each pregnancy.

Milk producer Nick Spencer, Middle Hall Farm, Eastington, Glos says yields increased through changes to the feeding system and more efficient rationing. Cows now lose less condition after calving, which has helped improve fertility.

"Out-of-parlour-feeders on the farm were 15 years old and needed major repairs or replacement," says Mr Spencer. Because he wanted to increase yields and improve fertility but maintain the same efficiency of feed use, he felt he needed to take more control of the cow ration.

Paul Findley of Yorks-based Best Fed Nutrition believes increasing concentrate fed in out-of-parlour feeders would have been inefficient. A mixer wagon, requiring no alterations to buildings, was the best option, he says.

"A mixed diet gives more control because feeds are weighed in, and it improves feed conversion efficiency because every mouthful is the same," says Mr Findley.

Herd margin has been maintained by boosting yield rather than increasing cow numbers. But cow numbers will increase when more replacements are available from the herd, adds Mr Spencer.

"A mixer wagon has allowed better use of high quality forage balanced with cheaper concentrates, giving a lower cost but higher quality ration."

After moving to new buildings at Middle Hall Farm in October 1996, cow yields had increased to 7000 litres sold a year, but fertility results were disappointing, with Mr Spencer using over two straws a pregnancy. Concentrate use was 0.27kg/litre, and MOC was £1405.

Mr Spencer is now selling 8320 litres a cow, and yield from forage should increase from 3000 to 3800 litres with higher quality silage this winter. Feed use is now 0.3kg/litre, and MOC is £1421, despite a falling milk price.

Semen use has reduced to 1.67 straws a pregnancy, and Mr Spencer is confident this will continue to improve. Conception rates are now 58% to first service from DIY AI.

Mr Findley explains that improving efficiency was possible because of increased control of cow diets through accurate rationing and monitoring cow intakes.

That allowed a target of producing 1.5 litres/kg of DM intake to be set; an average herd produces 1.1 litre/kg of feed DM from a cow yielding 6000 litres a year.

"Achieving a high level of production/kg of feed needs high quality forage and quality raw materials to balance that forage."

He avoids using feeds such as palm kernel, rice bran and wheat feed, preferring feeds such as wheat, maize meal, sugar beet pulp, distillers grains, soya, rapemeal, molasses and whole cottonseed.

A ration is balanced using a computer program and then cow performance and intakes are checked, while Mr Spencer monitors cow dung consistency and milk yield on a daily basis. He also keeps a record of cows and the amount of ration fed, from which he can average daily cow intakes.

Feeding a mixed ration has allowed Mr Spencer to identify less efficient cows in the herd because he now feeds only two diets. Ration use will be even more efficient when the range of performance within the herd is tightened. &#42

Performance is better after rationing changes, says Nick Spencer.

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