Improvements in feed efficiency on Richard Marshall’s farm in Omagh, Co Tyrone, has led to gains in financial margins. In 2020, average milk yield stood at 9,174 litres, which represents a 12% increase on the 2019 average of 8,187 litres.

Concentrate usage also moved upwards last year, but by a lesser extent. It averaged 2.84tonnes/cow, which is up 8.4% year on year.

Overall feed rate therefore improved and stood at 0.31kg/l. This compares with the Northern Ireland benchmarking average of 0.32kg/l, which is the same as the 2019 value for the Marshall farm.

In terms of milk from forage, the benchmark stood at 2,863 litres for Richard last year.

This is 21% higher than the 2,365 litres of milk that was produced from grass and silage the year previous.

The improvement in feed efficiency is reflected in the margin over concentrate (MOC) benchmark, which is effectively milk cheque minus meal bill.

MOC stood at £1,812/cow on the Marshall farm last year, up £163/cow or 10% on 2019 levels. It is also well above the Northern Ireland average of £1,549/cow.

The increase in MOC comes despite concentrate feed prices rising by £30/t last year. The increase in milk price over the same period was marginal at just 0.3p/l.

Efficient grazing

Dairylink adviser Aidan Cushnahan points out that better grassland management led to significant improvements in feed efficiency during the first half of the grazing season.

The average amount of milk produced from forage from April to June was maintenance (M) plus 15.3 litres/cow/day, compared with M plus 11.5 litres/cow/day during the same period in 2019.

In terms of bought-in feed usage, this equated to a saving of around 20t of concentrate, worth approximately £5,400.

Improvements in herd fertility and silage quality have also allowed Richard to make more efficient use of concentrate feeding in recent years.

The other factor influencing the change in the benchmarking figures was establishment of a tighter autumn-calving profile.

As Figure 1 shows, it meant more cows were in peak lactation before the end of the calendar year when compared with 2019.

Milk quality

Butterfat and protein production over the year also appeared to reflect changes in calving pattern. Milk constituents were higher between June and September 2020, as more cows approached the end of their lactation and were dried off than in the corresponding period during 2019.

Aidan Cushnahan calculates that the increase in average protein levels from 3.25% in 2019 to 3.29% last year was worth an extra £1,700 in milk quality bonuses.

The benchmarking figures in Table 1 show somatic cell count (SCC) continued to be maintained at excellent levels within the herd.

Richard has paid particular attention to mastitis management and has made extensive use of milk recording data to keep SCC at a low level.

Working expenses

A selection of working expenses generated on the Marshall farm in 2019 and 2020 are shown in Table 2.

Increases in dairy feed costs occurred due to higher meal prices and more tonnage being fed, although this was accompanied by an increase in milk output and margin over concentrate.

Forage costs decreased in 2020, mainly as a result of a reduction in fertiliser use. This mainly happened on silage ground, as Richard had adequate winter feed in the yard relatively early on in the summer.

The implementation of an animal health plan, which Richard developed with his local vet, is being attributed to the reduction in vet costs observed in 2020.

AI and breeding costs also declined last year and are similar to average figures reported within CAFRE dairy benchmarking, while a reduction in fuel costs led to a decrease in machinery running costs and contractor costs.

Adviser comment: Setting new targets

As Richard had already exceeded targets set for 2020, it was decided to review the targets that had been previously set for 2021. He is pleased with the changes achieved in milk yield and feels that it should be possible to maintain this level of output in the longer term. In 2021, the target is to hit a milk yield of 9,200 litres and a concentrate feed rate of 0.31kg/l.

Richard feels that while milk components are satisfactory relative to the level of milk output, it should be possible to improve this through maintaining high feed quality and introducing new genetics that will enhance milk solids production. The 2021 target is for butterfat and protein to average 4.16% and 3.35% respectively.