Making Feed Work Harder

With feed and forage costs accounting for around a third of dairy farms’ total cost of production[1] , diets need to work hard to deliver cost effective results.

Lloyd’s Animal Feeds are encouraging dairy producers to review their current Feed Conversion Efficiency (FCE), a key measure of the effectiveness of the diet. Just a 10% improvement in this could be worth over £30,000 of extra margin for a typical 200 cow herd over the year

FCE is simply the division of litres (energy corrected) by the kilograms of dietary dry matter offered and is reported as litres/KgDMI. An energy correction is typically applied to the litres to standardise the milk to 4.0% fat and 3.3% protein (IFCN standard) and Lloyd’s have created a free to use simple calculator available here

Lloyd’s Ruminant Manager James Hague encourages producers to: “Establish what your FCE currently is, benchmark it against others, then investigate where the weak points are in the system. Our team at Lloyd’s are happy to help with this process.”

IMG_0762Balancing the diet is a big part of achieving a high FCE, but other factors such as the quality of the herd, calving pattern, forage quality and management are all reflected within this single FCE value. Therefore, when looking at the balance of the diet, one of the most valuable tools is often a pair of wellingtons. Hague states “The cows dung is a great visual representation of FCE. Some dung we see on farm has lots of undigested fibre, a clear illustration that the feed going in the front isn’t ending up as milk. Other dung is runny, carrying with it feed components from the concentrates which are not being utilised. I would encourage all producers to look carefully at the range of dung pats produced in a day and equate this to their FCE.”

The cost of feed should also be reviewed when looking at FCE, as a high FCE achieved through feeding a high cost diet, may not result in a better margin than a lower FCE from a lower cost diet, or visa versa. FCE is therefore much more valuable when reviewed in conjunction with margin over feed and forage.

For those farmers on compositional contracts with milk protein around twice as valuable as milk fat, the diet should be optimised to produce cost effective milk protein. The use of fibrous compounds with low quality proteins will do little to drive high value milk proteins and as such may not deliver as good a margin. Producers are therefore encouraged to look at dietary components which promote milk protein yields such as starch and sugars and the quality of proteins within any supplements fed.

Hague states “At Lloyd’s we continue to concentrate on delivering feeds and support that delivers a better margin. As many farmers know, it’s not always the cheapest feed that produces the best margin. Some may view purchased feed as a cost, others as an investment. ”

[1] AHDB GB dairy herd performance 2014 /15