When times are tough, talking about areas that can be improved often gets you a visual slap in the face for daring to suggest them. Let’s get real though and look at some issues that we still see on farm.
Firstly it must be said a whole hearted change in farming strategy rarely works. If you haven’t farmed a certain way before, it’s probably because it doesn’t interest you or because you can’t run that system on your farm. You must be passionate about your system for it to be successful.
Flavour of the month is extensive grazing, so does it really pay? Well, yes it can, but if you previously achieved the dizzy heights of 2000 litres from forage and now the goal is 4000, because that article in “Super Dairy Farmers Weekly” said it was the only way currently to make money, then reality says that you are unlikely to become a grazing god this year (!?). Of course you can learn, but it will take time and maybe that isn’t what you have right now.
Ok, let us look at areas of potential gain without big spends.
Many of you are farming far larger areas than you require for the number of cows you have. Often rented land can be far poorer than your own, but if the single farm payment is as much as the rent, then silaging costs can seem minimal. Is this really the case though? It normally means longer mowing and harvesting times, making it much harder to avoid poor weather. That in turn means the clamp being open for longer too, and makes it more difficult to pick up the grass in the right condition. Compound this with cutting good grass late to get bulk on poorer/older leys and keep to one cut, and you have to ask, “What is the cost of that decision?”
Poor 10ME silage on an average Dry Matter forage intake of 12kg loses you 12 Mega Joules(MJ) and at 5.3MJ to make a half decent litre of milk that drops production by 2.26 litres per day. For an average 200 cow herd that is 452 litres per day. At 20ppl that equals £90.40 a day.
I only have 50 acres of it, so it can’t be that bad? You will still have 500 tonnes of silage taking 200 cows 62 days to eat it. 62x£90.40=£5604.80 in lost revenue. Is that 50 acres cheap now? If it also meant that you left your best grass so that the 50 acres had bulked up enough to harvest at the same time then that’s even worse. A 210 day winter on 10ME silage equals a £19,000 revenue deficit at minimum! Reality says you lose intake too and therefore even more litres.
Grazing is another area where poor utilisation of grass equals lower milk output and potentially a missed opportunity to produce more feed products from your own farm.
If you do not consider as important what height of grass you turn cows in to and what height of grass you bring them out of the field then you will never maximise your grazing potential. Running too many acres, invariably results in poor quality grazing. This affects milk and butterfat production. Grazing grass that is either too short or too tall will reduce your butterfat percentage. Keep grazing under control and give yourself surplus acres to grow cereals, maize or fodder beet that can help to reduce your feed bill further, whilst you maximise your milk contract.
Finally, lameness. Most herds are foot-bathing and regularly trimming, but are they getting the desired effect? Chronically lame cows tend to be a big problem. It’s easy to spend all of your time on these, but then miss trimming the cow that is heading towards that chronic list. Regular preventative foot trimming is a must. The payback being more output, longer living, fertile cows that will get sick less.
If you have a lot of chronic lameness, then you need to investigate why that is happening. Comfort, turning areas, feed areas and tracks affect recovery rates and obviously initial incidence. It is easy to become blind to what is happening in your sheds. If I had a pound for every time I have been told that all the cows lay in most of the time, then I would be sunning myself on a beach somewhere. Putting up a time lapse camera demonstrates the harsh truth. Every extra hour spent lying down, gains you between 1-1.6 litres of milk (if 13 hours lying time is not already being achieved).
This isn’t written to say you are doing a crap job, it’s written to make sure that you have not missed something that can make significant impact on your turnover. Some of these things are overlooked because you think they are already being done, but are they being done right or for the right reasons?
Remember. “Whatever you choose to do, do it well.”