With ever tightening margins in milk production, rising capital costs, competition for land use from other sectors of agriculture and political uncertainty, there is an ever growing need to maximise margins from your farmed land. Combine this with heightening environmental pressure and the challenge becomes ever greater. Now is the time to develop systems to utilise your farmed area and infrastructure to its full potential and in a year like this – with one of the toughest growing seasons in recent years – it brings into sharp focus the importance of adequate amounts of good quality forage.
By taking a step back from the intricacies of day to day cropping decisions and looking at the overall objective of your farm, decisions can be made to best utilise the resource that is your farmed area, based on soil type, rainfall and farming system.
It all starts with planning. Are you growing crops that best suit your needs? Are you growing crops that can achieve target yield and quality on your farm? They sound simple questions, but cropping decisions are fundamental in the total production capacity of the farm and can often be overlooked.
Define the demand
It is all about supply and demand, which is dictated by stocking rate. By calculating the Dry Matter Intake (DMI) of all stock on your farm over a twelve month period, total Dry Matter (DM) demand can be determined. Purchased feeds then plug the gap between what the farm can grow and the demand. By calculating the amount of feed purchased, the ME that they have brought onto the farm, and the milk and growth produced from that over a given time frame, it soon becomes apparent how much DM production and ME you have grown on farm. Calculating this figure as a whole farm figure is more powerful than converting it to milk from forage, because milk from forage per cow can be skewed by herd demographic changes. The challenge is to increase this by soil and crop management, cropping decisions and animal nutrition.
By analysing this figure there is the opportunity to maximise the utilisation of the farm. Depending on stocking rate, it will often be more cost effective to maximise the production of bulk in the form of digestible fibre and buying in starch and protein. This is where cropping decisions coming into play depending on farm layout, soil type, rainfall and altitude.
TIPS TO MAXIMISE WHOLE FARM UTILISATION
Grow what the cow needs by focusing on the demands of the cow. This is one of the most fundamental parts of maximising whole farm utilisation. Cows live off digestible fibre and nutritionally, it is one of the biggest variables in rationing. Wheat grain is wheat grain, whether it is grown on farm or bought in. Similarly, protein levels can be tweaked easily to plug any gaps, but what is harder
to control once the clamps are full is the amount and quality of fibre to feed. Good quality digestible fibre is the number one goal of forage making.
Consistency in terms of supply, consistency in quality throughout the year and consistency from one year to the next are all vitally important. All too often a farm has some cracking first cut silage, but it’s gone in a few months and you are left with poorer quality late season silage to try and build the same ration with. This is not good for the cows or the farm business, both of which need a consistency to operate at full potential. The desire to provide consistency should dictate cropping area, having a rocket fuel forage to feed for a short time can be more detrimental than having a mediocre one for a sustained period in terms of rumen health and management change. The need for consistency should also dictate cropping choice, whether you can reliably grow an adequate supply of maize on a marginal site, or consistently get good silage from a river meadow. Seasonal and annual ration plans, including youngstock can form the backbone of cropping budgets and will highlight shortfalls.
In almost all situations, maximising crop yield will be the most cost effective approach. This is not the same as maximising cut volume with grazed grass but measuring production for the whole year. Annualising field production is vital when looking at overall forage budgets and farm utilisation. Can you afford to take a 0.5kg DM yield per ha knock on maize yield if it means you get a second crop in good conditions in the autumn? When focused on this, double cropping and short-term catch crops or one year grass leys often look far more favourable where they can be managed
correctly through to feed-out.
Every farm’s situation is different; whether it is stocking rate, stock type, layout or topography, the demand on one farm can be different to the demand on the neighbours. Make a plan for what suits you and look at a wide range of options, such as cereals, legumes and brassicas alongside or instead of reliance on grazed and conserved grass.
Finally, and most importantly, all forage should be costed out through to the point of feeding, not just harvest. With weigh scales on feeders that record everything it is easier than ever to find out exactly what you are feeding. Alongside variable costs, allocate proportions of fixed costs to specific crops to ascertain whether they are fully justified in your cropping plans. It may come to light that it is more effective and efficient to directly purchase certain proportions of your energy, protein or fibre demands than trying to grow them.
Consider where crop production sits alongside the nutritional demands of your stock, within the limitations of your specific farm along with the correct allocation of costs. This way, decisions can be made to maximise your land base, increase profitability and business sustainability in the long-term.
Dairy Technical Specialist
m: 07876 824314