The first few months of 2023 have seen a change in the economics of dairying, writes Alan Hopps, CAFRE Senior Dairying Adviser, based in Armagh.
The price of a kilo of concentrate on most dairy farms is now above the price received for a litre of milk. What does this mean for dairy farmers?
This situation should mean that farmers focus more on feed efficiency and improve their milk from forage, where possible, to maximise profitability.
Cows perform best when their diet is consistent; thus large, knee-jerk reactions can adversely hit herd performance.
The reduction in performance may not occur immediately, but fertility and milk yield may suffer some months in the future if concentrate input level or quality is dropped substantially.
Small incremental changes are best rather than a large drop in feed intake.
Now more than ever, dairy farmers need to assess their current performance and benchmark it against others.
A plan of action can be implemented after the starting point has been measured.
Not all farms will be in the same position or following the same system of production.
Advice for dairy farmers
Here are some general pointers to improve feed efficiency on dairy farms, and that these pointers can be implemented on their own or together.
- In a grazing herd, match the stocking rate to grass growth to ensure good intakes of grass dry matter;
- Where surpluses of grass arise on the grazing platform, take paddocks out for bales as soon as possible;
- Make as much use of grass as possible and graze more cows than usual if the herd is partly housed;
- Focus on forage quality (both grazing and silage) so that cows can maximise their intake of quality forage;
- Ensure that the best forage available on the farm goes to the most productive batch of cows;
- Cut lead feeding times at the start of lactation and ensure cows are on ‘feed-to-yield’ sooner;
- Push the M+ setting on a ‘feed-to-yield’ system a few litres higher than normal as forage quality permits;
- In a housed herd using a diet feeder, always ensure that the M+ in the mixed ration is set to the lowest-yielding cow in the group;
- Check parlour feeders and weigh cells on the diet feeder regularly for accuracy;
- If cows are grouped, move cows between groups regularly to ensure low-yielding cows are not overfed.
The cyclical nature of milk price means that continuing with the same management regime may not always be the right thing to do.
Assess your situation, find out how you compare to others and make improvements quickly.
This will ensure that profitability can be maintained.
The margin over concentrate (MOC) programme on the DAERA website is an ideal tool to give farmers quick feedback on their herd performance.
Contact your local CAFRE dairying development adviser for assistance if required.
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