Thursday, May 23, 2019

Dairy units boost profits by reducing forage waste

March 5, 2019 by  
Filed under Livestock

Dairy farmers are being encouraged to increase forage values by reducing waste – with almost half its potential lost from field to cow on some farms.

Feed accounts for 60% of variable costs for some farms – making it the single biggest expense for UK dairy businesses. But it is also one of the most under-utilised inputs. Some farms lose as much as 45% of its potential before it is fed.

This equates to a waste value of almost £1 for every £3 spent, says Ian Leach, of feed specialists Alltech. Feed wastage occurs in the field, during storage, at feeding out and inside the cow, according to a study by the company.

Explaining the preliminary results, Mr Leach says the study has confirmed there is scope for huge improvement in the utilisation of forage across the spectrum of UK dairy farms.

Silage clamps

Results from 34 farms revealed that some 25% of dry matter (DM) was being lost in some silage clamps. This represented the greatest losses in the most nutritive part of the silage – resulting in the undigestible proportion increasing.

Mr Leach says: “Not only does this cause a reduction in dry matter intake (DMI), it has potential to lead to health issues, such as Sub Acute Ruminal Acidosis (SARA), as the balance of the ration can be disrupted.”

Feed barrier space and the way feed is presented also affects wastage. Some 23 of 34 farms failed to meet the target feed barrier space of 65cm per cow, increasing waste and reducing feed conversion efficiency, which averaged 1.2 across the pilot study farms.

Incremental improvements in this key parameter can significantly reduce feed wastage, says Mr Leach. Cow health was another key area where efficiencies could have a big impact on wastage and the bottom line, he adds.

For a unit with average incidence rates of mastitis, lameness, metritis and milk fever, the total financial impact of losses equates to around £39,995 (3ppl). Calving intervals of 419 days and service conceptions of 2.6 could also be costing units around £47,161 (3ppl).

Heavy losses

In addition to health and fertility issues, drops in rumen efficiency can also add up. “During the study we’ve seen a consistent presence of fibre in the dung and some grains demonstrating inefficient rumen function.”

Research shows that a feed conversion efficiency of 1.2 could comfortably move to 1.3 with specific nutritional strategies which could have a minimum impact value of 1.4ppl, adds Mr Leach.

“While the Alltech pilot study cannot attribute specific losses against environmental parameters, Cow Signals indicates that insufficient feed barrier space, water trough space, or lighting, will have a direct influence on lying time and reduce feed conversion efficiency.”

Mr Leach says the Alltech team will continue to assess the extent of losses in other areas of the system on more farms – while also working to develop tools to show farmers the true extent of the financial losses.

“We ultimately want to help farmers take greater control of feed waste to cut costs and improve margins,” he says.

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