Almost half of all milk production costs in NI are related to feed, according to the latest CAFRE benchmarking results.

In 2023, concentrates made up 40% of costs on benchmarked dairy farms, with forage costs accounting for a further 9%.

After that, replacements were responsible for 8% of milk production costs, 11% were categorised as other variable costs, and fixed costs make up 32% of total costs.

“If you take concentrates, forage, and replacements, we are sitting at nearly 60%. These are the key areas we can address when we are trying to reduce costs per litre,” said Mary-Jane Robinson from Thompsons.

Speaking at a meeting in Coleraine on Tuesday, Robinson pointed out that there is a “significant variation” in the cost of production across local dairy farms.

“Some recent figures suggest production costs of around 35p/l on average, but if we factor in hire purchase and bank loans, then some units here are sitting at 38p/l to 40p/l,” she said.

The theme of the event was improving efficiencies on dairy farms and livestock nutrition was seen as a key area where gains can be made.

However, Robinson was clear that efficient feeding does not always translate to improved net margins, as the cost of individual feed ingredients have a significant influence on profitability.

“An example is when we had soya meal north of £500 per tonne before Christmas. The reality is sometimes because we are feeding the right ration to be efficient, it doesn’t necessarily mean those animals will be more profitable,” she explained.

That said, there is scope to improve feed efficiency on most dairy farms, and this will usually have a positive impact on financial margins, as well as the carbon footprint of milk production.

Robinson said a wide range of factors influence feed efficiency, although she advised that a key area to focus on is forage digestibility, particularly the fibre content of silage.

“The D value of silage swards decrease by three units a week after early May. In an ideal world, if weather permits and you can do it, aim to mow first cut at the end of April,” she said.

Robinson pointed to AFBI research which shows multi-cut systems have better fodder quality, although total annual yields are lower.

“If you are closed with TB and at the back wall, there is no point going for a multi-cut system. Try for a short window between first and second cut and prioritise it to your dairy cows, then let third cut bulk out if need be,” she suggested.