Profitable Milk and a Sustainable Future in Dairying
It goes without saying that most UK dairy farmers cash flows and profitability are currently under extreme pressure. Never the less things will improve in due course, perhaps a lot faster than most people think.
It is impossible to predict to where average long term milk prices will be but we can expect more volatility than we have seen in the past.
The challenge will be how do we best reduce costs and improve efficiency going forward? Do we have options? What can we do better? If needs be, can we live with longterm lower milk prices and volatility ?
How do we reduce costs and improve efficiency going forward?The key has to be, how to produce more output per cow whilst using less concentrates. How do we get more from forage without sacrificing yield per cow?
I have often been struck by how some farmers particularly in The Netherlands are able to produce very high yields of milk per cow with high compositional quality along with good fertility and high body condition scores whilst using much lower annual levels of concentrates than the UK average.
The UK Dairy Industry needs to be able to compete in the global marketplace. That means embracing new technology and being technically efficient and with milk production costs as low as the best whilst producing a sustainable and profitable future for dairy farmers.
Here are some thoughts and options for consideration which may be applicable in improving our long term viability as an industry.
10 Points Plan for Profitable Milk Production
1). Modern grass varieties are far more productive than old pasture grasses. New varieties have higher sugar levels, higher digestibility, have a higher response to nitrogen, feed better and make better silage. Yet the UK only reseeds 2% - 3% of grassland each year.
Reseeding offers the opportunity to produce the same forage from fewer acres whilst producing higher output per cow from less concentrates.
Regular reseeding produces more, higher quality grass from few acres
2). Applying more fertiliser may be more cost effective than renting more ground. As well as nitrogen plants need phosphorous, potash and sulphur. Remember the nitrogen cannot be utilised effectively if other major nutrients are deficient.
Applying more fertiliser may be very cost effective compared with renting ground
3). Good quality silage cannot be made from low quality grass. Cutting more frequently produces higher yields of forage per acre per year, with higher energy and higher protein values. Multi-cut systems have clear advantages.
Moving from a two cut system to a three, four or five cut system can produce higher forage output per acre as well as higher output per cow from reduced concentrates.
Grass will head at a similar time each year. It is better to take a light first cut at optimum digestibility rather than to wait for a big crop of poor quality first cut.
Cutting at the optimum stage of growth can save substantial amounts of concentrate per day. Cut when seed heads can be felt in 30% of plants rather than waiting for 50% ear emergence in order to achieve top quality silage.
More frequent cutting results in higher yields / acre and higher quality silage
4). It is not uncommon for well over 30% of energy yield and dry matter yield in a growing crop to be lost during conservation, storage and feed out. That is 30% wasted that will never see the cow. We have the technology to drastically reduce these losses. Attention to detail in all aspects of silage making is key. Silage inoculants have been proven to reduce crop losses and to increase animal performance. Silage additives save money and are cost effective.
All silages should be treated with a high quality silage additive such as Ultra-Sile
5). Silage losses can also be reduced by improved consolidation and better sealing. Silage clamps need to be made completely air tight as soon as filling is completed. No delays, no gaps, no holes.
Conventional plastic silage sheets and cling films are porous to air but Oxygen barrier sheets now offer the means of making clamps fully airtight. This is a major technological advance in the silage making process.
Any air present in the pit will delay the fermentation increasing spoilage and losses in feed value.
More attention to consolidation and sealing silage pits
makes better silage and reduces losses
6). Silage pits should never be over filled. Chop length, consolidation, dry matter %, and choice of silage additive need to be matched to usage levels and ambient temperature for feeding at different times of year to avoid face heating and loss of nutrients.
Plan ahead and if in doubt construct an overflow pit or use big bales rather than overfilling existing pits.
One of best systems for sealing a pit is to use oxygen barrier film and side sheets, covered with an additional conventional black plastic top sheet, protective nets and then fully covered with lorry tyre sidewalls to provide an even weight across the whole pit.
Cover silage with lorry tyre sidewalls to reduce losses and improve silage quality
7). Cows are ruminants. How well they convert forage and other feeds to milk and meat depends on how well the rumen is balanced.
Cows will not give of their best if they have acidosis or sub-optimal rumen pH, or if they are mineral deficient or if the rumen is out of balance, short of scratch fibre, sugar, fermentable energy, degradable protein etc.
Grazing does not generally provide sufficient minerals or trace elements to meet requirement and cows at grass have been shown to regularly suffer from acidosis.
Both with fully housed cows and with grazing cows it is essential to design diets which optimise rumen function and feed efficiency.
Don't ignore nutrient requirements and feed for optimum rumen efficiency in order to produce high yields of milk efficiently and cost effectively
8). When cash is tight it is tempting to cut back on supplements such as minerals, buffers, yeasts, toxin binders, protected fats many of which are extremely cost effective.
This can have huge implications for feed efficiency, cow health and fertility and may well be a case of "penny wise pound foolish". You would do well to consult your nutritionist first.
Dairy cow supplements are usually fed for a reason.
Consult your nutritionist for the best options for reducing costs
9). When facing low milk prices beware of knee jerk financial advice to cut inputs without solid justification. Particularly if coming from advisers with little or no knowledge of nutrition or the technical aspects of the products that they would cut out.
Cutting certain inputs can increase the costs of production. Also beware of inexperienced salesmen selling "cut price offers" but with little to offer to your business.
Instead base your decisions on advice based on sound science and good practical application proved over many years. If a product will show a positive return then it is worth using. Not using it will cost you money and reduce your bottom line profit.
Off the cuff advice can
be extremely costly.
Be sure that advisers really do have the necessary experience and knowledge
of the subject and specific products concerned
10). Remember that reducing milk production costs, has much more to do with greater efficiency and productivity than it has to do with buying fewer or cheaper products or in working harder.
Most important remember that for the dairy farmers who are able to consistently operate with above average efficiency there is light at the end of the tunnel and there will be a profitable future ahead.
To reduce milk production costs work smarter, not harder