Time For a Stocking Rate Review?

In the twenty or so years I have been involved with intensively grazed dairy cows there has been general trend towards higher stocking rates.  Initially this was justified as changes from set-stocking to rotational grazing increased grass output significantly.

However, some very difficult recent seasons – 2018 in particular – brought this into sharp focus and forced a rethink on many farms.

I recently analysed Comparable Farm Profit data for a discussion group of dairy farms in the Wessex Region, with a particular focus on the cost of feeding the herd.  To calculate this, we included:

  • Purchased feed costs including bulk feeds.
  • Fertiliser and Lime
  • Seeds and Sprays
  • Forage sundries
  • Contracting costs for silage making, fertilising and reseeding
  • A nominal rent figure for all hectares, with relevant adjustments made for part-season usage e.g., stubble turnips.

The initial aim of this analysis was to distinguish between herds that were fed expensively (cake and silage) and cheaply (grazing), measured in pence per litre to allow for the yield effects of different feeding systems.

We also analysed the farms’ Comparative Stocking Rates (CSR) – the total kilograms of animal liveweight divided by the number of hectares available.  Using the assumption (from research) that a tonne of dry matter can sustain 90 kg of liveweight, we then calculated how many tonnes of dry matter per hectare each farm would need to supply (either grown or purchased) to sustain their herd.

This figure ranged from 9.1 to 15.8 tonnes of dry matter per hectare across the farms.  Those of you measuring grass will know that 10-12 tonnes is excellent performance in the South of England. 

The lesson from this is that the farms at the higher end will need to purchase a greater proportion of their feed requirements.  This was borne out when plotting this figure against the cost of feeding each herd.High stocking rates correlate to higher costs of feeding the herd (COFH)

In today’s climate of increasing feed, fuel and fertiliser costs, the costs of feeding the herd will inflate disproportionately for the farms with higher stocking rates. 

With this, and an increasing focus from regulatory bodies on dairy farms being “fit for purpose” (sufficient silage and slurry storage), is now the time to conduct a strategic review of your business to assess the best herd size for your business?  Contact Tom on 07890 661259 or e-mail tommalleson@fgcgagric.com to carry out a stocking rate review of your livestock business.