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Archive: Reducing feed costs

Published 24 February 15

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Increasing the proportion of fresh grass in the diet of high yielding cows can be a viable option to reduce feed costs. However, farmers should be careful of milk yield reductions, suggests new DairyCo-funded research.

“Feed and forage costs remain the single largest cost on GB dairy farms,” according to Dr Debbie McConnell, DairyCo research and development manager. “Grass is our cheapest feedstuff and, as a result, it is important we investigate different methods of introducing this into a dairy cow’s diet, to reduce feed costs and help improve farm profitability.”

Last summer, researchers at SRUC investigated how increasing the amount of fresh grass fed to higher yielding cows (38 litres/cow/day) via a cut and carry (zero-grazing) system impacts on animal performance and economics. The cows were fed one of three diets:

1.    100% TMR diet

2.    75% TMR: 25% fresh grass on a dry matter (DM) basis

3.    50% TMR: 50% fresh grass on a DM basis.

Each day, fresh grass was cut and fed to the three groups of cows while milk yields and economics were monitored over a 16-week period.

Over the course of the study, introducing fresh grass in the diet at 50% of the DM intake reduced feed costs by £16.80 per cow. This equates to over £2,500 for a typical 150-cow herd.

However, the low dry matter content of the grass meant that DM intake was on average 2 kg/cow/day lower with the 50% TMR: 50% fresh grass diet. This led to a reduction in milk yield of 4.3 litres/cow/day compared with the 100% TMR diet which averaged 35.7 litres/cow/day over the course of the trial.

“In this study we had a TMR cost of £84/t FW, and a grass cost of £15/t FW,” explains SRUC researcher Dr Mark Lee. “This meant that up to a milk price of 32ppl, the 50% grass treatment left the highest margin over feed costs, above 32ppl, 100% became more profitable due to the extra milk yield generated. However, if you lower TMR costs by 10%, the cut-off falls to 27ppl.”

The full report, ‘Increasing the proportion of fresh grass in high yielding dairy cow diets’, can be downloaded from the DairyCo website.