Higher feed costs are best counteracted by increasing feed efficiency, Mark Voss of Keenan Rumans was set to tell Dairy Event visitors.
"There is no doubt dairy farmers will face higher feed costs this winter, so it is crucial to look at the whole picture and include the cost of all concentrates, either bought in or home grown, as well as forage and fibre sources. This means rations must be reviewed on a cost a tonne of dry matter basis."
Looking at average feed costs across Keenan-fed herds, Mr Voss is predicting an increase to £126/t DM where farmers are exposed to spot price buying. "That's a 21% rise in ration cost equivalent to 44p a cow a day and feed costs haven't stopped rising yet.
"At last winter's average ration cost of about £105/t DM and a feed efficiency of 1.1, total feed costs equal 9.5p/litre, the effect of increasing ration cost to £125 with a static feed efficiency is an increase of 1.9p/litre," reckons Mr Voss.
For those producers in the top 25%, achieving better technical performance at a feed efficiency of 1.4 litres/kg of DM, the effect of a similar price rise is less painful, adding 1.4p/litre to feed costs, he says.
"But the real impact is shown by raising feed efficiency as a means of offsetting cost rises altogether. By gaining 0.2 in feed efficiency, both average and top 25% farmers can virtually eliminate the effect of the £20/t DM price increase."
Such increases are achievable, he claims. "Ration presentation is the key driver to early improvement in feed conversion efficiency, moving to a full mixed ration system without parlour feeding also helps achieve higher FCE - 0.06 higher than those feeding mixed rations while topping up in the parlour."
Other key factors include ensuring sufficient fibre is present in dry cow rations and preparing cows well enough in the dry period to make better use of ration ingredients. "Improvements of 0.05 are readily available from following the Keenan High Fibre dry cow programme."
Reviewing performance from last year, Mr Voss says a cow consuming the average dry matter intake recorded last year of 20kg a cow a day with an FCE of 1.1 would produce 22 litres of milk a day. "But the same cow with an FCE of 1.3 would produce 26 litres from the same feed intake and we only need to achieve half this to offset this winter's feed price rises."