In The News
Feed waste could cost £522 per cow, per year
Feed costs for a typical 1.5 million litre dairy herd are colossal at around £230,000 per year, with research suggesting that as much as 2545% of that feed is lost, or underutilised, during the feed process.
According to Bob Kendal, ruminant specialist at Alltech, preliminary results from the company's feed waste reduction and utilisation on-farm pilot study highlighted that feed waste could be costing as much £522 per cow, per year. As a result, he said tackling such waste offers a huge opportunity to improve business profitability.
“If you take a 200cow herd, this could present an opportunity to boost the bottom line by as much £105,000 annually," he said.
“Feed waste can occur in four key areas including; in the field, at storage, at feedout and within the cow. So, it’s important farmers manage factors that can be controlled across each of these areas, such as forage quality, cow health and fertility and feed conversion efficiency (FCE). This can protect the business from external factors such as milk contracts, market volatility and supply chain pressures."
As a he result, he said the company has introduced an onfarm feed waste and underutilisation service which looks at assessing and analysing waste onfarm, and then provides action points for the farmer, with a view of driving profit margins by a minimum of 1.2p per litre.
During the visit, practical steps such as managing reseeding programmes, wilting times in the field, improving clamp consolidation or increasing access to fresh water, are assessed to find solutions to help reduce waste.
“When looking at feed waste in the clamp, measurements such as density, dry matter, clamp size and temperature can help determine visible and hidden waste. Feedout is also an important area and parameters that are assessed include loading accuracy, diet presentation and feed space,” explained Mr Kendal.
“There is huge potential for feed waste within the cow and areas from rumen health through to cow housing, of which all contribute to FCE and ultimately feed waste are assessed.
“Data from the assessment is then analysed and the identified losses are converted into a monetary value to show the financial impact of feed waste. This varies on every farm so it’s important to have an individual assessment,” he says.
Farmers are then provided with a report to highlight actions that can be taken onfarm to help reduce feed waste. This allows farmers to recognise the value of underutilised inputs, benchmark against other farmers and put manageable targets in place to help reduce the financial losses onfarm. By being aware of the cost to the business, it helps farmers make an informed decision on where to focus improvement efforts.
Case study -
Adam Lawson, North Cassingray, Fife, teamed up with Alltech to identify where feed waste is occurring on his farm and practical ways to tackle it.
Adam Lawson runs a 180head pedigree British Friesian and Dairy Shorthorn herd with his parents in Fife, Scotland. The Lawson family have a passion for producing highquality breeding stock, which led to them winning champion Dairy Shorthorn at the Highland show this year.
Cows are housed during the winter and grazed from May to September, with additional buffer forage provided when required. They look to produce as much milk from forage as possible to reduce reliance on concentrates, and making good quality silage is therefore a top priority.
“Our cows are currently pushing average yields of 7200 litres at 4.59% BF and 3.24% P,” said Adam.
“I wanted to undertake the assessment to help us make better use of our feed, particularly forage. I had a feeling that most of our waste was occurring within the clamp and wanted to understand the financial impact this was having on our business, and where improvements can be made to increase efficiency,” he added.
The assessment revealed that the Lawsons are already undertaking a number of practices to help manage feed waste, including provision of comfortable housing with adequate space, lighting and ventilation. “All these factors influence DMI and if inadequate, can increase physical waste, reduce rumen efficiency and impair cow health, said Mr Kendal, adding that one area to consider improving is feed and water access.
“The recommended feed barrier space is 65cm per cow and one drinking trough for every 20 cows. Housing at North Cassingray falls slightly short of this with the feed barrier space 10cm less than optimum per cow, and an additional two water troughs are required.”
Waste during feed out was also negligible as feed is pushed up five times a day in the winter. They also use a Keenan MechFiber diet feeder to produce a consistent ration presentation and reduce sorting and physical waste in the trough. Loading accuracy is also closely monitored through the InTouch system to ensure cows are fed exactly what they should be, avoiding over or under feeding and underutilisation.
The assessment revealed the key areas of losses were at storage and within the cow. At storage, financial losses of £14,925 were identified with the clamp benefitting from better consolidation as poor structure can increase the risk of mould and mycotoxins.
There are however a few simple steps that can be taken to help reduce this.
“It’s important to sheet the pit as soon as possible and not roll the following morning as this can draw air into the clamp.
Additionally, using a side sheet can help reduce losses around the edges,” explained Mr Kendal. “It’s also recommended that a shear grab is used to help keep a clean face and reduce mould developing on the surfaces.”
He also advised rolling the sheet back so that only enough silage for 37 days is visible with all silage with mould present discarded to minimise the risk of longterm health, and rumen issues.
Feed waste within the cow is another area where improvements can be made at North Cassingray as while health issues were minimal, focusing on mastitis could be worthwhile. Cows with mastitis are not contributing to the milk tank, and so feed consumed is considered to be ‘waste’. Cow environment, milking routine and an animal's immune system are key to reducing mastitis rates.
Mr Kendal also believes that while the calving interval sits at a respectable 374 days, reducing this by just nine days to hit a 365day target, could mean a saving of £7300.
“Minerals are an important dietary component when looking to improve health and fertility, but the form in which they’re supplied should be considered. This is because trace minerals offer a higher bioavailability compared to their inorganic counterparts, which helps achieve optimal animal health, immunity and fertility.”
FCE is a vital parameter when it comes to underutilisation of feed and while the financial impact in this area is lower than the UK average, which is £113 per cow, there is still room for financial savings.
“FCE currently sits at 1.3 at North Cassingray, however, with the target set at 1.4, this means the Lawsons are currently losing £65 per cow per annum," said Mr Kendal. "This equates to a herd loss of £11,700. It’s therefore worth Adam considering specific nutritional strategies to prioritise rumen health, such as including a live yeast. This will help improve ration digestibility and stabilisation of the rumen pH, which allows for increased milk production without compromising body condition and fertility,” he adds.
Overall, Mr Kendal said that the Lawsons are already undertaking many good practices. However, by improving storage, cow health and FCE, the farm can reduce feed waste and improve efficiency, increasing the bottom line by as much as £50,000.
Table 1: Financial impact of feed waste
Area Financial impact/average feed losses per cow per year
Cow fertility £12,419
Cow health £11,743
Cow rumen £11, 895
Feed out £
Storage grass silage £14,925