REDUCING costs of production is never an easy task, but in dairy farming, some businesses have been able to achieve reductions of as much as 8-10p per litre by taking tough decisions, and without altering their system.
That was the welcoming news from Kite Consultancy, who said improvements in herd fertility and forage quality could make a huge difference to the bottom line – despite feed, fuel and fertiliser costs making up 44% of their overall financial outlay compared to 33% in 2005.
In doing so, such producers had been able to reduce the break-even milk price by 4p per litre since 2015 and reduce their overheads by 4% over the past three years.
“Some businesses have made massive cost savings since the down turn in the milk industry with some saving 8-10p per litre,” said Kite’s John Allen.
“Farmers are not the same people we dealt with 10 years ago. They have become a lot more business like and much of that is down to bench-marking. They form small groups and share what is working best for them, with the result many are able to increase production while also reducing the cost of their feed ration. We are seeing some amazing results with benchmarking,” Mr Allen said.
It was a point echoed by David Keiley, Kite’s senior dairy consultant based in Scotland. 
“There is potential for every farm to reduce costs of production which on dairy farms is mostly driven by fertility and forage quality.
“If you concentrate on improving the quality of forage produced and take three or four smaller cuts of grass silage instead of two, there is potential to reduce the amount of concentrates required, increase milk production and milk solids. 
“Producing a high quality, 35% dry matter forage with an average ME of 11.5MJ per kg of DM and a 15-16% crude protein, from all silage crops, will make a huge difference,” said Mr Keiley, who advised a 30-35day cutting cycle instead of the 42-45-day norm. 
Furthermore, by cutting a lighter crop at the three-leaf stage, he said grass dries quicker, traps more of the digestible nutrients and therefore can be harvested in a quicker period of time, meaning a shorter weather window required.
Mr Keiley also pointed out that regular cutting of grass and leaving a green 5-7cm stubble in silage fields, ensures faster grass generation.
Higher quality silage also boosts herd fertility, with all figures pointing to calving at two years of age increases profit margins and lifetime yields. 
Dairy farmers should aim for a 380 calving interval by focusing on the requirements of the dairy cow during the transition period.
“If you look after the dry cow and there is less stress at calving, follicle quality is improved which means a cow is more likely to hold to first service. Ideally, you should be looking to AI cows at 40 days, but if she is still coming back at 70-80days, the vet should be called to find out why,” said Mr Keiley.
While milk values have improved over the past year, Kite encouraged producers to review their business as with the huge investment implemented on many farms in 2015, average debts had increased from £1900 per cow in 2014, to £2356 in 2016. Furthermore data from the consultants indicates to a further rise of £2700 per cow to March 2017.
This equates to 36p per litre, which does nevertheless compare favourably to producers in Denmark and New Zealand who face debts of more than£1.30 per litre and 55p, respectively.