Focus on efficiencies rather than costs

Focusing on a more efficient use of forage will help reduce production costs in 2016 in a way that does not adversely affect the business. Planning for this, however, must start now.

All too often you see articles preaching that farmers must cut costs of production in the current economic climate. This supposes that it is possible to eliminate certain aspects of expenditure because they deliver no value to the business, and that cutting these costs is achievable with the entire saving being realised.

I am not aware of a single farmer who could say with confidence that they could cut costs in this way because they spend money without expecting a return. I have spoken to many different groups of farmers over the past year and the conclusion I have come to is that farmers wish to understand how to maximise the return on every item of expenditure they make. I believe that on all farms it is possible to improve efficiency in order to increase return on investment, and in doing so help reduce the cost of production.

If we take forage as an example, Kingshay and AHD8 Dairy data suggest there is 11 pence per litre difference in the cost of production between top and average farmers ranked on cost of production per litre. Three areas contribute significantly to this difference: purchased feed costs per litre produced, the cost of extended heifer rearing, and poor health – a combination of increased mastitis ad lameness coupled with poor fertility. If we produce higher quantities of better quality forage we can reduce purchased feed costs per litre, and we can rear heifers more quickly with lower purchased feed inputs. In addition, more forage will improve rumen health which will be beneficial for cow health.

It sounds very simple, but if it was simple then wouldn’t everyone be doing it? The truth is that on many farms there is a huge opportunity to improve both production and utilisation of forage to increase efficiencies and thereby reduce costs of production. But it will require a change of attitude and management based on two key elements:

1.      Planning

Have you planned how much forage you need and what quality? How will you go about producing it? What actions can be taken throughout the year to ensure you deliver against the plan?

Far too few farmers will actually have a plan designed to produce their target yield from the minimum input of purchased feeds. Instead, many will opt to manage around what is in the clamp. The good news is that it may not take much to reposition yourself so that you can achieve top 25% results when we consider current performance tables.

Across the range of yield levels, producing just 1.9 - 2.4 tonnes more forage freshweight per cow is all that is required. As a rule of thumb when considering silage, a target 12.5 kgDM/cow/day at an average ME of 10.7 MJ is a good starting point. Start with the combination of crops to be grown, and ask yourself, will they deliver the forage needed? Also consider the risk of a shortfall in forage quality and quantity and how this can be minimised, and how much flexibility you have to modify the plan during the season.

2.      Attention to detail

Everything you do must be focused on making the highest quantities of the best quality silage possible. Assuming you make the 12.5kgDM/day, each extra 0.25 MJ on the energy content will be worth an extra half a litre from forage, or allow 0.25kg less concentrate to be fed.

Fermentation quality is key to high quality silage and low levels of wastage. Review your silage making and decide what you can change to improve quality. It could be cleaning the clamps before refuelling or talking to the contractor about how you want your crops cut and when; or it could be making changes to how the clamp is filled. It will certainly involve using a crop and condition specific inoculant and making sure the clamp is well sealed.

If you plan carefully and pay attention to detail, you will be well placed to reduce costs per litre next winter. 

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