Sunday, 26 April 2015

Peak Milk: Flat rate feeding systems

Cows grazing paddock 26, sown with AberGain.

We've had a week of very warm weather. Growth was recorded at 60 on Monday, but with some much needed rain forecast, hopefully it will have overtaken demand, which is running closer to 70.

Cows are down to 1kg a day of meal in the parlour, just enough to maintain a steady cowflow in the dairy. Despite cutting out the meal, milk output hasn't dropped, with cows giving 2.1kgMS. One thing we've noticed, however, is that with the good weather and our fast rotation, there is very little stem in the base of the sward. This is the equivalent of feeding more of the "concentrate", leafy, part of the grass plant, with high energy and protein, but low structural fibre. Butterfats are very low, at 3.55%, but volumes are very high at 29.5 litres. 

So the question is should we be feeding more of a high fibre meal to redress this balance?

In short I'd say no. Especially with this years' milk prices. With this in mind I thought I'd discuss an alternative approach.

A lot of UK seasonal calvers have adopted a flat rate feeding approach. Cows are fed the same amount of meal , typically 3-4kg/cow, everyday of lactation, essentially fixing demand. Here are some pros and cons of this system:

-Very easy to budget meal costs.
-Easy for staff, less decision making.
-Efficient way of administering minerals.
-Consistent part of diet for cows.
-Can protect milk income from vagaries of grass quality and weather.

-Unable to capitalise on a "good growing year", where high grass growth leads to lower meal costs.
-Surplus growth can only be captured as silage.
-Without an appropriate stocking rate the points above can be exacerbated.

In our own position flat rate feeding doesn't add up. This is because we already make enough silage on our runoff block. Any silage made from the platform is a management headache, as we prefer to keep the whole grazing block in our rotation, challenging cows to eat as much cheap, high quality grass as possible.

Whatever approach you take to supplement feeding the important questions to ask are:
1) Why am I feeding?
2) From a whole systems approach, does it pay?

Until next time, keep grazing!

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