Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Reducing cow feed costs by up to 10%

Feeding cattle is a skilled job

Many farmers get 'the boy' to do the feeding. He doesn't mind doing it - it's mechanical and not hard work. Neither is it too complicated. He can do it unsupervised. Unlike milking, where a mistake can lead to a disaster, feeding has fewer pitfalls.  So milking is seen as the most important work on the dairy farm, and even in a beef unit. feeding is often a routine left for someone who's had little or no training. 

Think again. Feed is the most costly input in both milk and beef. The combined cost of bought in concentrates and feed materials, plus the home grown or bought in forage is greater than the cost of labour or anything else. 

Feed costs on the dairy farm  The Agricultural Budgeting and Costing Book  says that concentrates, including bulk feed cost 6.7p/litre, and forage 2.9p, totalling 9.6p. Labour is 4.7p and power and machinery 3.3p. A 10% saving in feed is almost a penny a litre. 

Feed costs for beef   The same source says that a 560kg FriesianX 22-24 month beef animal selling for £956, with the calf valued at £218 will eat £242 of concentrates and have forage costs of £220. 

The scope for saving is considerable, and farmers chasing margins consider feeding to be a major skill.  

Recent dairy farming figures from California show the close relationship between cow yield and profits in herds ranging in size from 140 to 5,000 cows. High yielding herds feed their cows more so feed costs are higher, but these were the most profitable. Farm consultant Rick Lundquist from Duluth, Minn. asks how feed costs can be cut without losing milk, and concludes that a 10% saving in feed costs is possible, so the cow costing £5/day costs £4.50. 

Yet feed waste has the potential to be huge. 

Badly managed silage clamps can easily get to the 10% figure.

  • Cattle that are allowed to toss feed literally throw good stuff away.
  • Feeding outside so rain and wind contaminates the contents of the bunker, driving tractors and machinery over feed, or wheel tracks on the feed floor, controlling feed thieves like birds and rodents, all add up to increased costs and lower profits.
  • Diet feeders which are wrongly loaded, allowed to over-mix, are carelessly discharged so feed goes where it shouldn't, all add to waste.
  • Trough management, and the re-presentation of feed reduces consumption.
  • Silage clamp management, with a uniform mix of poor, average and good blocks, provides a consistency. 
  • Out-door feeding of big bale hay or silage can rack up considerable losses. 

So why is it that feeding is often poorly managed? 

Some farmers believe that having the right type of diet feeder or mixer wagon is all that is needed to get efficiency. It is, after all, roughly what the makers and dealers say. 

Regular readers of Practical Farm Ideas will remember how our contributing farmers have made bunkers which prevent feed tossing, feed barriers which can't be pushed, self feed silage systems and low cost out-door bunkers with low level rolling roofs that protect the face cheaply. 

Farmers who are less familiar with Practical Farm Ideas should tap into the back issues or get some details from the author and publisher.

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