Focus on forage to combat rising costs
March 16, 2022
The terrible events unfolding in Ukraine are first and foremost a humanitarian tragedy. However they have also disrupted supplies of key commodities and led to increased volatility in global markets. For the key agricultural inputs of feed, fertiliser and fuel, we are now experiencing unprecedented price rises with even some concerns about availability and supply. In response producers will need to consider:
- revising nutrient management plans to ensure they make the most of slurry and manures and make best use of any fertiliser inputs.
- preparing a fodder budget to ensure adequate fodder for next winter.
- preparing a cash flow for the next 6-12 months to ensure facilities are sufficient to meet the increased working capital needs of the business.
“All dairy producers need to focus on taking more from forage” advises Alan Agnew, Senior Dairying Development Adviser with College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Environment (CAFRE). “Rising fertiliser and fuel costs increase the cost of forages but they are still significantly cheaper than concentrates. Producers who can improve milk from forage performance can offset rising feed costs to some extent” he continued. “Applying current fertiliser and fuel prices to our Forage Costing model shows the cash cost of grazed grass is now approximately £66/t of dry matter (DM). The cash cost of good quality silage produced on a three cut system has increased to around £160/t DM. With concentrates projected at possibly £350/t it is clear that improving milk from forage will pay dividends”.
The extent of the potential savings are seen when these figures are applied to diet costings. If a 30 litre cow is housed full-time and fed on good quality silage and concentrates, her diet cost will be £4.60 per day. Grazed full-time and topped up in the parlour the cost is £3.20 per day. Where the same cow is grazed by day and housed at night the diet cost will be around £3.75 to £3.90 per day depending on silage quality. Therefore the feed costs for a typical 100 cow herd can vary at the extreme by up to £140 per day, or £980 per week for the same level of performance. For a group of cows averaging 20 litres daily, the difference full-time grazed versus fully housed is even larger potentially £1.85 per cow per day. With higher yielding cows averaging 40 litres daily the benefit of grazing is reduced but still around £1.00 per cow per day.
Clearly there is a real opportunity to reduce feed costs by taking more from grazed grass. Cows that are settled in calf and yielding below 35 litres/day should be considered suitable for grazing. However the grazing needs to be properly planned and implemented to ensure grass quality through the summer and achieve good utilisation of the grass grown. Where there is only a limited platform available then consider splitting the herd or housing at night.
“The Forage Costings also raise some other interesting points” continues Alan. “Firstly forage maize, with a lesser fertiliser requirement and the benefit of a large bulk at a single harvest, is now comparatively cheaper than three cut grass silage. But it requires a suitable site and technical expertise to grow successfully. Secondly the costings suggest that a four cut system increases the cash cost of silage by about £35/t DM or £10/t fresh compared to three cut. Producers need to be confident that they can actually realise the potential of the higher quality silage. Milk from forage needs to be improved by at least 1.5litres/cow/day to justify the extra cost and Margin over Concentrate (MOC) data at Business Development Groups indicates that this is not necessarily being achieved.” Alan concludes that “Reducing feed costs and improving feed efficiency must be a focus for all producers this year. Grazing cows is one option to achieve this. Fodder budgets, financial cash flow budgets and effective nutrient management plans will also be required to manage the crisis.” Further information is available on the CAFRE website at www.cafre.ac.uk/using-fertilisers-effectively