Back Getting the most from supplements

Date: 30 June 2015

Every time the milksolids payout drops, the industry starts talking about reducing production costs. Supplementary feed is often the first target since feed and feed related expenses, such as stock grazing, are big ticket items for most farms.

Reducing the production cost per kilogram of milksolids will only be viable if production levels can be maintained at an economic level. Slashing feed inputs is risky because milk output is driven by energy input. In my opinion the focus should be on making changes which enhance productivity rather than just decrease cost.

Farmers can improve the returns they get from their supplementary feed spend by:

1. Maximising pasture harvested.
While pasture is not necessarily a cheap feed once you take into account the cost of the land it is grown on, most of the costs associated with growing pasture are fixed. This means that it costs you about the same amount for kgDM wasted as it does for every kgDM harvested. This year the focus needs to be increasing pasture harvest. It will never be economic to feed supplements and waste pasture. Plan to do regular pasture walks and monitor pre and post-grazing residuals carefully.

2. Feeding the most cost effective supplements.
The majority of New Zealand dairy cows are lacking one thing - energy. While fancy supplements and complex rations may produce a bit more milk, there is a high chance they will not generate as much profit as you would get by feeding the cheapest form of energy.

3. Growing a proportion of their supplementary feed requirements themselves.
There are many benefits from growing high yielding crops on the home farm or run-off. Generally the cost per kgDM is lower; cropping enhances the pasture renewal process and gives more control over crop harvest time. Maize is a great option because it can be grown in high fertility paddocks, including those with a history of effluent application, without the need for additional fertiliser.

4. Minimising storage and feed-out losses.
If you buy a supplement for 30.0 c/kgDM and waste 10%, the cost is now 33.3 c/kgDM eaten. If you waste 30% it rises to 42.9 c/kgDM. Keep silage stacks well covered and maintain a clean, tight face. Don't overfill feed bins. If you are feeding in the paddock put the supplement along a fence line or use an electric wire to stop stock tramping it into the ground.

5. Investing wisely in grazing off.
Grazing off can be "cheap feed" if your livestock are well fed and achieve growth targets but it can be very costly if your heifers fail to, or are late getting in calf because they do not meet liveweight targets. Plan to check your stock on a regular basis.

The first step to sensible supplementary feed use is to do a feed budget to determine how much feed you will require for the coming season. Be realistic about expected pasture growth rates and target milk production levels and use these to determine how much supplement you require and when you will need it. Then, taking into consideration the factors above, make a plan to determine where you will source the feed you need. Finally remember it is always expensive to purchase feed on the spot market when everybody wants it.


Ian Williams

Forage and Farm System Specialist