John Mulvany, Onfarm Consulting
Common sense tells us that it's almost impossible to provide a best option approach for everyone at a field day. There are facts about how to deal with what you are encountering, and then there are a myriad of opinions about what you should do.
- Milk on most farms this summer (February) is worth $4.90 per kg milk solids (35-37cents per standard litre, at 4.15 per cent butter fat and 3.3 per cent protein) assuming two more step ups.
- Those on 43 per cent plus DI milk price will average $6.20/kg milk solids or 46c/standard litre March– June. This scenario means that you only need 0.68 litres to pay for one kilogram of supplement.
- Today, purchased supplements are about 32 cents per kilogram. That means, if you feed a kilogram, you need 0.9 litres of milk to pay for it next month.
- Milk responses to supplements are much greater in early lactation than late lactation.
- Therefore it is fairly obvious that if you have fresh cows feed them well. If you have stale cows feed them to hold condition. If you have both and you can not feed to groups, feed somewhere in between.
- It takes less energy to put condition on in mid - late lactation than when a cow is dry.
- When a cow reaches 13 litres, 50 per cent of what she eats is going towards maintenance (which you do not get paid for), therefore only 50 per cent is going into milk.
- Vendors you have purchased inputs from normally expect to be paid within 30 days.
- A good guide of success this summer is if you can keep 50 per cent of milk income after feed costs, you are going well, as long as it is not 50 per cent of not much!
- If you can have a margin after supplementary feed costs of $3-4 per cow for a July-August calving herd, this is not a bad result, but other costs will quickly demolish the remaining $3-4 depending upon your situation - so cash is obviously tight!
- A guide to sensible feeding (that is, the balance between paying the bills, maintaining, or not losing too much condition, and keeping cows milking to get a better milk price later), for an example herd of 270 cows doing around 19 litres (or 1.4 kilograms of milk solids), would be:
- seven rolls of silage for the herd (220 kilograms dry matter/bale), 1.2 kilograms vetch per cow, and 6 kilograms of grain per cow;
- this would mean that 84 per cent of energy is coming from supplements, costing about 50 per cent of income, with cows netting 9.5 litres after feed costs;
- this shows that, this year there is not much money in supplements but they should cover their costs and preserve the system;
- there is no room for overfeeding.
- Dry off levels depend on the cost of feeding a milker compared to the costs involved in feeding dry cows. In the example above, if when a cow is dried off, she still has to get silage, then the value of that is 6 litres; this has to be deducted from the cost of feeding a milker. Hence dry off levels are between 9.5 and 3.5 litres.
- It takes less energy to hold or gain condition in a milking cow than a dry cow, however if the cost of the energy going into the milker is double (grain at 2.9 cents/megajoule) the cost into the dry cow (agistment at 1.4 cents/megajoule) then this needs to be considered. Let's all hope for a 16/3 break.
What About Feeding Young Stock — when you do not have a daily vat figure to check
- 150-200 kilogram late winter/spring-born calves need 32 megajoules (MJ) of metabolisable energy in a good quality diet (protein ≥ 17 per cent) for maintenance, and another 30MJ of metabolisable energy to gain a kilogram of live weight per day. If you want them to grow, they need 6 kilograms of good quality dry matter.
- You do not have to have 550 kilogram heifers at calving to do above 500 kilograms of milk solids per cow and get first time calvers back in calf. Be mindful that this will transfer costs to the next lactation when you will need to make up for lost ground.
- An August-calving heifer currently at 380 kilograms live weight needs 70MJ of metabolisable energy of a reasonably good diet to gain live weight (0.6 kilograms/day) now.
- A critical issue with calves less than 12 months of age is consistency of diet. They will shut down if feeding is erratic e.g. feast then famine. Checking them three days late in a dry summer can stop growth but they will still be alive.
- An August-calving heifer has 200 days before calving, and 100 of those days are likely to be during dry conditions, so if they only maintain live weight now, they will have to 'grow like stink' in the last 100 days with grass.
- As a guide, in our 270 cow example herd with 60 replacements of each age group:
- The 15 month olds would need two bales of good quality silage per day if there is NO grass of significant quality. If quality of the silage is doubtful then a kilogram of grain will make a significant difference. If there is a reasonable 'pick' of summer grass, 1 bale per day is enough.
- The 60 calves need a quality diet to grow, and silage would have to be very, very, very good to achieve the required outcome. In most cases, feeding three bales every couple of days, plus 2-3 kilograms of a reasonable concentrate will do the job if there is no grass.
- This is now starting to seriously cost ($10-$11) per week so it may be worth looking at alternatives.
- In the north east this summer, it will be unusual if you can feed calves well enough without any supplements. However, if you were in the fortunate position of having heaps of green grass then you should have no dramas.
- High density calf feeding paddocks will expose calves to worms. Drenching in hot dry summers helps to break the cycle.
Finally, what about the other livestock on the farm? The people! It is not all about cows and milk, time out does not always have to cost an arm and a leg.