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10-12-2015

Assess the basics on your unit to maximise productivity and profitability

Afbeelding: FF-Triple-F-Logo

With winter afoot and low milk prices looking set to stay well into next year, now is the time for dairy producers to plan their strategy for the winter months to ensure that they maximise herd performance.  We spoke to a dairy nutritionist and producer to find out how to get prepared. 

This autumn, feed manufacturer ForFarmers launched a new assessment scheme for producers that looks at basic finances, feed costs, utilisation and forage availability on a dairy unit. 

The assessment, known as the Dairy Triple F Assessment Scheme, allows producers to work alongside the feed supplier to look at performance and identify any limiting factors that may reduce productivity and profitability, and to agree objectives for the winter months.

The assessment gathers information in a simple, paper-based system, and provides data on feed rate, feed costs and feed costs as a percentage of milk income.  This data is used to make more informed feed decisions for the winter. It is also used to benchmark the unit against businesses of a similar size to allow producers to see how they are performing and identify any areas than can be corrected before the winter feed regime is set. The scheme is now well underway and producers up and down the country are benefiting from taking part.

One producer who has found the assessment useful is father and son partnership, Harry and Harry Gregory. The Gregorys run Normanton Farm, near Telford in Shropshire. The unit has been steadily growing herd numbers since the family first bought the farm eight years ago, after making the decision to relocate to the Welsh borders from Northern England, and despite the challenging milk price, the unit is generally doing well.  With new cubicle housing being used for the first time this winter, more space has been created to enable further growth of the herd between now and next February.  

The unit’s dairy herd consists of 180 cows, averaging 9,200 litres. As suppliers to cheese maker, Belton, quality is important and butterfat averages 4.16% and protein 3.44%.

“Harry and Harry run an efficient unit,” explains their ForFarmers nutritionist, Roger Marley, who has been working with the family since they came to the area. “They already pay close attention to dairy costings and we review these together regularly. But as all producers know, every year is different on a dairy unit, and it’s important to understand performance while you can still make a difference to decisions for the winter, when feed costs will rise, and the assessment provides a good opportunity to do just this.” 

The unit comprises of 125 hectares of owned land, plus a further 50 hectares of rented ground. The Gregorys grow cereals (winter barley and winter wheat), maize and fodder beet, all of which is used on farm.  All bull calves are kept on the unit and reared on homegrown barley before being sold locally at Market Drayton market at around 600-650kgs.

The unit generally rears its own heifers, with some exceptions being bought in as the family has increased the size of the herd.  Calving takes place for nine months of the year, with a break between March and May. This system helps manage production through the spring flush, and helps the unit maintain a level production profile.  It does mean some heifers are slightly later getting into calf than the farm’s 24-month target – having to be held back to 27 months to fit in with the calving pattern.  “This is an area we are looking to focus on,” explains Harry junior. “Our calving index of 410 days looks high because of the way we calve and we do want to bring this down.”

The unit took part in a Dairy Triple F Assessment in mid October, and the key figures from the business were:

Measure

Normanton Farm

Benchmark Figure

(For 9,000 litre + herds)

Feed rate

0.38kg per litre

0.34kg per litre (average)

Feed costs

6.75ppl

7.56ppl (top 25%)

Feed costs as % of milk income

28%

27% (top 25%)

Calving interval

410 days

 

Forage stocks

1881 tonnes grass silage

810 tonnes maize silage

390 tonnes fodder beet

 

Ration review

Good energy density available. Important to balance protein.

 

Key unit objectives

Increase milk yield to 9,600

Maintain good milk quality

Increase herd size to 200 by February 2016

 

For feed costs and feed costs as a percentage of milk income, the Gregorys are in the top 25% of herds producing more than 9,000 litres.  “We try to grow as much as we can to help keep bought-in feed costs as low as possible,” says Harry senior. This strategy is working well with the unit’s concentrate feed costs just 6.75ppl, which is well below the 7.56ppl average. The assessment suggests that the unit’s feed rate is on the high side for a 9,000 litre herd, and this is an area where savings could potentially be made. 

Whilst there is plenty of housing to meet the Gregory’s plans to expand the herd to 200, the bottleneck will be the unit’s collecting yard.  After analysing the assessment results with Roger; Harry and Harry are considering splitting the herd into two groups by yield; a group of 100 highs and a group of 60 lows. This will help manage the pressure of the collecting yard and groups will remain largely the same throughout their lactation so there will be limited movement of cows between the groups.  “This system means the yield of the high group can be increased by balancing the ration using the unit’s out of parlour feeders, and savings can be made by not overfeeding the lows,” explained Roger. 

Normanton Farm Diet  (Highs)

25kg

Grass silage

15kg

Maize silage

0.75kg

Straw

10kg

Fodder beet

3kg

Wheat

3kg

Rape/soya

1.5kg

SBP/soya hulls

0.1kg

Urea

ForFarmers concentrate is fed to yield via out of parlour feeders to maintain the required protein balance. 

“The Triple F assessment was a good opportunity to perform an MOT on the unit,” concludes Harry senior. “We had a good idea of where we were from the regular costings, but seeing where we are compared to other units is a good exercise and it’s always good to get different viewpoints on what we can do to improve.”