Improving your feed conversion efficiency in challenging times

What would a 10% increase in feed conversion efficiency (FCE) mean to your bottom line? Converting feed into milk is the name of the game and as all feed costs money, converting more dry matter directly into saleable product leads to increased margins and profitability.

Dairy Nutrition
Cows grazing feed efficiency art 720

“With the national figures suggesting an average FCE amongst dairy herds of 1.20 litres of fat corrected milk per kg of feed, there is real potential for dairy farmers to drive towards the target value of 1.6,” says Philip Ambler, ForFarmers technical manager.

The value of increasing feed conversion efficiency

“To illustrate the maths of increasing FCE, a cow eating 22kg DM would produce 26.4 litres of milk at an FCE of 1.20 (22 x 1.2 = 26.4)."

Increasing to 1.3 FCE would result in 28.6 litres of milk (22 x 1.3 = 28.6) which is an increase of 2.2 litres. Putting a value onto this, 2.2 litres of milk at 27ppl would increase margins by 59.4p per cow per day. For a herd of 170 cows that equates to over £3,000 per month.

“In addition to the financial value of increasing FCE, there is also a consequential reduction in carbon footprint per litre as well. With the current direction of travel towards net-zero, then FCE is well worth reviewing."

“At ForFarmers our Feed2Milk approach aims to deliver the nutritional and technical support needed to improve FCE on our customers’ farms."

Tapping into your potential

“Improving FCE requires an understanding of where the bottlenecks are that are stopping feed become milk. Our reviews of the cows, the forages, the diet and the environment can highlight areas for improvement."

Key to this resulting in additional margin is understanding the value that each change would make. It’s much like having a series of investments, each providing different rates of return and over different time periods.

Improving performance

Developing a diet that best suits your cows’ requirements, and then ensuring that cows are consistently eating this diet, day in day out, will make a huge difference to their performance.

All too often, there is a discrepancy between the diet formulated for cows and the diet they are actually fed. A recent survey found that 37% of dairy farms experienced poor mixing of diets, another 17% suffered from sorting after feeding out and 29% of farms had problems with both. Interestingly, in that same survey only 17% of the mixes fed to cows adhered to the diet designed by their nutritionist.

Is it time to change?

“There is no bad time to start thinking about how you are going to improve FCE on your farm. Even during periods of low milk prices, if you can get the right plan in place and deliver results during the challenging times, the rewards you reap will be even great when milk prices improve."

“But it is also important to think about the long term. Achieving a relatively quick improvement in FCE is relatively straightforward, but the real challenge comes into sustaining it! Focus, continuous monitoring and a clear strategy will help maintain good performance and, despite the other distractions on farm, needs to be maintained at all times.”

Key considerations

  • What would a FCE improvement of 10% result in financially on your farm?
  • Identify the key areas on your farm that would most easily deliver an uplift in FCE
  • Focus on return of investment on feed, not just price per tonne
  • Improvements to dry cow management often offer the quickest returns