Blended concentrates give farmers more flexibility to design rations that match forages and milk contracts for maximum performance, health and milk price, writes Karen Brewer.
Welsh milk producers are taking advantage of expert nutritional advice from farmer owned supply business CCF to design bespoke rations that can be regularly adjusted to balance forage variations, stage of lactation and milk buyer requirements.
“We are seeing growing demand for designer blends as more farmers recognise the flexibility they give in what we can do for the individual,” says Richard Lewis, feed trading and blends manager at CCF’s expanding Glanrhyd manufacturing facility, near Cardigan in west Wales.
He explained that while any feedmill is restricted to a limited range of pelleted concentrates, blends can be formulated to whatever specification best suits a dairy herd’s individual situation and be adjusted as circumstances change.
“We regularly see trends in requirements determined by the season, for instance, last year almost everyone was struggling with forage quality and were looking to increase energy. But increasingly we are tailor making blends to match different milk buyers as every milk contract pays on a different set of criteria.
“We can also take advantage of changes in commodity markets such as the recent fall in world prices for grain maize that has put by-pass starch back on the menu for UK livestock,” says Richard. “This reduction in global prices, due to an increase in the world maize harvest and changes in USA biofuel requirements, has allowed us to source French maize shipped into nearby Pembroke ports and also Avonmouth.”
He explained maize was now available at a similar price to wheat, but more can be fed without causing digestion problems for the cow as a proportion of maize starch by-passes the rumen. “For most producers this winter it is about turning the tap on and feeding for maximum milk and with cow condition scores low on many farms, getting plenty of energy into the diet is a key requirement. But it is important to be sure you are feeding actual maize and not a lower cost derivative.
“Some farms though are still tight on silage stocks after emptying their clamps last year and are also looking for a blend that will extend forage, while others are focussing on milk solids to gain maximum returns from their buyer.”
CCF began blending in a former grain store at Glanrhyd around nine years ago, investing £¾m in 2011 to meet increasing demand. Up to a further £1m is earmarked for investment during 2014 to increase production to over 30,000t, improve transport efficiency and provide an outlet for local grain producers.
“Although we have also grown sales of our Centenary range of branded formulations, tailor made blends already account for 50% of output as more farmers tap into our nutritional expertise and our ethos, as a farmer owned business, to do the best for our members.
“In addition to ticking the boxes as far as nutrition and feeding the animals are concerned, CCF is committed to open declaration. We provide a full list of ingredients by percentage on all custom blend orders and we don’t use exotic names, so customers always know exactly what they are buying.
“For instance, a common practise is to change the names of lower grade materials such as oatfeed, which is often somewhat misleadingly called breakfast bran, our promise is that we will always call a product it’s actual name. We also state the actual protein content of feeds rather than using the permitted 10% tolerance that allows a 17% protein feed to be legally sold as 18%,the tolerance is there to take account of natural variations not for commercial advantage” says Richard.
Producers have the option to order blends on spot pricing or agree fixed price contracts as nutritionist and technical feed manager Phil Evans explains. “We are happy to look at fixing prices forward at any time depending on farmers’ wishes. Once a contract price is agreed, any reformulation of the blend is made using the original contracted raw material prices. This enables famers to meet the changing needs of their cows, but still take advantage of fixed prices.”
One of Phil Evan’s clients, Daniel James, farms in partnership with his parents Stephen and Joyce, at Gellyolau, Clynderwen, Pembrokeshire. The home farm comprises 290 acres of grassland plus 30 acres of woodland and a further 290 acres are rented nearby.
Cow numbers have been steadily increased since Daniel returned home with a degree from Harper Adams and the commercial Holstein Friesian herd currently stands at 310 plus followers, well on the way to his target of 400. “We are looking to expand in a smooth flow rather than one big step. We bought a nearby herd of 55 cows last year, 35 in-calf heifers to come in alongside home reared replacements this year and another 20 to calve next year,” said Daniel.
Although forage maize has been tried in the past, the cold, heavy clay ground and five-foot annual rainfall makes the farm more suited to growing grass, with night and day grazing from mid-March to the end of October. Silage is taken in three cuts at six to seven week intervals from mid-May, although this year’s slow spring moved first cut back to 29 May.
Calving is all year round, with fresh calvers kept in for the first 150 days of lactation. Cows are fed up to 5kg/day of concentrates in the 10-year-old, rapid exit, 30:30 milking parlour plus a trough-fed TMR, designed deliver maintenance plus 29 litres, comprising 32kg grass silage, 4kg processed bread-waste, 5kg blend and 0.5kg straw.
“Yields currently average just over 7,000 litres per cow with 3,600 litres from forage and our aim is to increase to 8,000 litres, producing 4,000 from forage,” says Daniel. “Phil calls on a regular basis and maintains contact between visits to discuss how the cows are doing. Last year, following a short period on a liquid contract, we moved back to a cheese contract with First Milk. Our milk price is dependent on butterfat and protein content and Phil has helped design a diet to keep solids high and focus on animal health, the critical key to profit.”
Phil explains: “I have taken what the farm produces and balanced with compound and blended feeds to meet the milk contract and maintain herd health. The 37%DM first cut silage is high in energy, protein and sugar but low in fibre, it keeps the cows milking but they are very loose on it, so the blend has to be low in sugar high in digestible fibre and not over-supply protein. As there is processed bread is in the diet, ground maize is used as an alternative starch based energy source, to lessen the risk of acidosis.”
Cows are beginning to be fed second cut silage which has just been analysed at a similar DM, lower energy and protein, but more fibre. Phil is formulating a new blend to meet the changing circumstances and this will be available as soon as sufficient second cut is being fed to warrant the change. Phil will then liaise with Daniel on how the cows respond and see if any further changes are necessary.
CCF’s designer blend approach is certainly working at Gellyolau with winter milk solids running between 4.3 and 4.5% butterfat and around 3.5% protein. Says Daniel: “We are not ticking all the boxes on our cheese contract but are still getting 34.5p per litre and there is a £3,000 a month difference from what we would be paid on a liquid contract.”