Top autumn calvers avoid purchased forage cost rise

Published 8 May 19

The most profitable autumn calving herds spent 1.1ppl less on purchased forage than the bottom performing herds in 2017/18. This accounted for a large portion of the 2.1pp difference in total feed and forage costs between the top and bottom 25% of farms.

This is according to analysis of around 350 GB dairy farm accounts in the latest Dairy Performance Results – our annual report looking at costs and margins for the top 25%, middle 50% and bottom 25% of farms (ranked by profitability) for AYR, autumn and spring calving herds.

FE DPR Feed And Forage - Costs For Autumn Block Calving Herds 2017-18

Purchased forage costs increased markedly for the middle 50% and bottom 25% of autumn-calving herds in 2017/18, compared with 2016/17, and against average figures for the previous 5 years. Meanwhile, purchased concentrate costs showed a more modest rise of 15% (less than 1 ppl) for the middle 50% and decreased slightly for the top and bottom 25%.

 FE DPR Feed And Forage - Change In Costs For Autumn Block Calving Herds 2017-18

These data cover a time period which included a challenging winter – with some areas of the country affected particularly badly – and autumn-calving cows would have been in peak lactation during this period. The data suggest that some farms may have attempted to preserve or even boost yields by spending more on purchased forage during 2017/18. However, the top 25% do not appear to have attempted this strategy and this is reflected in milk solids production across the groups: the top 25% seem to have accepted lower yields, while the middle 50% and bottom 25% seem to have attempted to feed to preserve yields.

 FE DPR Feed And Forage - Milk Solids Per Cow Per Year For Autumn Block Calving Herds 2017-18

This shows the importance of considering the economics of changes in feeding practices before carrying them out. Feed costs for the top 25% held steady despite the adverse conditions and they produced less milk as a result, but still came out with the most profit.


Weighing up the economics of feeding decisions

  • The challenging weather over the last year has emphasised the importance of planning for extremes to help minimise the extra costs that poor weather can bring. Expert view – grazing strategies is available on our website and includes advice on planning winter feeding
  • If you are considering altering your feeding to get extra litres, or higher milk solids, it is essential to know how much you will get paid for this, taking into account any seasonality payments included in your milk contract. If your milk buyer participates in our Milk price calculator, this can help you calculate how much extra revenue you might generate for more milk and/or higher solids. It can be used together with our Milk forecasting calculator, which allows you to forecast your milk production and sales income
  • The more challenging question is how much it will cost to produce those extra litres – this will be individual to your situation because it depends on cow size, yield, solids content, feed energy content and how much the cows will eat. Knowing the energy and nutrient content of your forage is crucial, so each cut taken should be analysed. Our technical resources demonstrate how to work out cow energy requirements depending on milk yield and how to formulate feed plans accordingly. However, complex diets or changes in diet are likely to require input from your nutritionist to ensure the balance of nutrients is right for your individual situation – ideally you want to know how many extra litres you can expect to get from the modified diet and at what cost

If you’d like more information on farm performance, costs and margins for all-year round, autumn and spring block calving herds, take a look at the Dairy Performance Results 2017/18.