Cut costs wisely or risk gains being wiped out by additional losses

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Length: 641 words; 3-4 minutes

Challenge rations to perform image

Poorly considered cutting of feed inputs in reaction to recent milk price cuts could see any gains quickly overtaken by losses in cow performance, health and fertility. According to KW nutritionist Dr Anna Sutcliffe, what’s needed instead is a more holistic approach that focuses on feed value – not price per tonne – and drives improvements in both feed conversion efficiency and milk value.

“Every 0.1% drop in butterfats will cut milk price by another 0.2ppl on a typical liquid milk supply contract, and considerably more on a manufacturing contract,” she highlights. “That’s worth £333/month for the average 2 million litre producer, and will quickly wipe out minor feed cost savings.

“And it doesn’t take much for compromised nutrition to cut peak yield by, say, 4 litres, which would knock 800 litres off total lactation yield, and lose a 200 cow herd with a 415 day calving index £35,000/year, even at 25ppl. And that’s before you take into account any long-term impact on fertility and future yields from cows losing body condition.”

“The key is to switch to feeds that lower the cost per litre…”

But as Dr Sutcliffe is quick to point out, there are feed cost savings that can be made without undermining income, and many of the improvements will also lift performance. The key is to switch to feeds that lower the cost per litre by either delivering nutrients more cost-effectively, lifting performance, or a combination of the two.

Traffordgold tipping image
Moist feeds like Traffordgold offer better value for money than their dry equivalents.

“The net result will be an increase in margin over purchased feed (MOPF) even if total expenditure rises as a result of buying better quality – but also better value – feeds,” she explains. “Formulating rations to improve feed efficiency will then maximise the milk produced from every kg fed, whilst fine tuning the ration and herd management to match milk quality with contract requirements will help optimise milk value.

“For example, moving from band B to band A for bactoscan and somatic cell count (SCC) by improving milking routines, general hygiene or culling persistently high SCC cows can add 0.6-3.0ppl on many contracts, and up to 5.8ppl in the most extreme cases. It will also lower the incidence of mastitis and significantly reduce the costs of subsequent milk loss and treatment.”

To fine tune feeding and feed buying strategies, Dr Sutcliffe recommends using regular forage analysis as the starting point. Then calculate the additional nutrients needed, rather than listing specific feeds.

“Challenge your feed supplier to recommend the best value options to supply those nutrients whilst also optimising rumen function and feed efficiency, driving feed intake and minimising the overall feed cost per litre,” Dr Sutcliffe continues.

“High sugar liquid feeds like Rouxminate or Economol, for example, will supply energy plus increase palatability, whilst SoyPass rumen-protected soyabean meal will currently supply digestible undegraded protein (DUP) for 34% less cost than hi-pro soyabean meal.”

” …a…moist feed like Traffordgold can produce savings equivalent to £45-55/t.”

Using SoyPass can further reduce ration costs by lowering total ration crude protein requirements, and allowing the use of more cost-effective sources of rumen degradable protein (RDP), such as Spey Syrup. Similarly, switching from a dry compound feed to a moist blend or moist feed like Traffordgold can produce savings equivalent to £45-55/t.

Spey Syrup image
In addition to energy, Spey Syrup is a good source of rumen degradable protein (RDP).

“Question every aspect of the ration to make sure it’s providing best value,” states Dr Sutcliffe. “For example, a 2010 study by the University of Illinois following the 40% drop in US milk prices in 2009 found that supplements like yeasts and rumen conditioners typically produce a 3-6 times return on investment by improving rumen efficiency.

“That’s value which needs to be protected if feed costs per litre are to be minimised, and removal for a quick cashflow saving will likely cost much more in the long run. Putting the focus on efficiency rather than rash cost-cutting not only helps rebuild margins, but also sets the herd up to be more efficient overall, ready to maximise profits as milk prices increase and be more viable in years to come.”

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