OPEN DAY REPORT: Monitor farm goes to war to get results

Even the best laid plans can go astray, it’s knowing when and what to change to get things back on track that brings real results.

This is what monitor farmer Phil Asbury had to say about the “lean management” approach the farm has taken to forage and milk production, the informed decisions he’s been able to make and the 23% net margin per litre increase he’s seen in the last year as a result.

Phils Asbury discusses pasture management with the group

Phils Asbury discusses pasture management with the group

Clive Hall dairy monitor farm near Winsford is part of the Grassland Solutions group (Fletcher & Co) that also has farms in other parts of Cheshire and Shropshire. Managing director Andrew Fletcher praised the project saying that “real results were starting to benefit the farm business”.

More grass, more silage = more milk and profit

In the last 12 months the farm has grown more grass, made more silage (41ha more), fed less corn (down from 900kg/cow to 800kg/cow) yet produced more milk (Up from 4,600 l/cow to 5,100 l/cow) and profit (7.1ppl to 10.5ppl) – and it’s all down to the “informed decisions” he’s been able to make.

Battle plan

It is 20 months (June 2010) since Dr Kay Carson introduced Clive Hall farm to the data collection needed to base these performance making decisions, a process the dairy specialist likens to battle planning in war.

Dr Kay Carson

Dr Kay Carson

“We started the year with a ‘lean’ budget which listed every input and every output, with its associated cost or income, month by month. At all times we could see the money spent against milk output and compare them against the budget plans. If targets were not met, we made the necessary changes to input use to try to get cost of production back on track the next month.

“You’ve heard the saying: ‘in war no battle plan survives contact with the enemy’”, Kay told the recent Open Day at the RDPE Northwest Livestock Programme Dairy Monitor farm in Cheshire. As, without a plan to guide decision making, you cannot react to events in a way that will deliver your objectives.

“It’s all about minimising unit costs. This year at Clive Hall this has meant keeping costs constant and getting more production out of them by minimising waste.”

And the biggest results this year have come from Phil’s attention to silage production – in quality, quantity and how efficiently it was produced:

“In 2010 we made light silage cuts as and when paddocks were available, which resulted in high contracting costs per tonne of DM produced. This year I utilised the contractor better by improving my grass growth predictions, using plate meter readings and the Kingswood grassland management programme. This meant we made heavier cuts of silage without compromising the grazing rotation.

“We budgeted to make 14ha of silage but actually made 55 ha of silage as clamp and bales for the year which made a big difference. We also left slightly higher residuals which made a difference in how fast the grass recovered and improved allocation of grass to cows.”

Phil went on to tell the visitors, “With the Kingswood system I can make ‘what if’ scenarios, which helps me make informed decisions, as we can see what the result will be if the weather changes or other inputs alter.”

In summary

• 41ha more silage made than budgeted for which has reduced the need to purchase as much forage as first thought
• The farm grew 13 tonnes DM/ha of grass (one tonne more than last year)
• Used contractors a lot more efficiently, reducing contracting costs per tonne of DM produced.
• Fed 100kg corn/cow less than last year (down from 900kg to 800kg) – average corn price £198t, saving £19.8/cow and £4,158 across the herd
• Produced 5,100 l/cow, up from 4,600 l/cow last year
Geoff Booth, Operations Manager with Grassland Solutions, commented “If we can grow and utilise a further ton of DM per ha, we can potentially drop corn by a further 290 kg per cow. Some of this will have to be made into silage because of grazing quality, but still results in 61 tonnes less of purchased feed be it corn or silage.”

Other things changed this year that have worked:

• Raising pre-grazing height from 2500 kg DM/ha to 2600-2700 kg DM/ha, and leaving slightly higher residuals (1550 kg DM/ha), subject to grass growth predictions
• Improved allocation of grass and better use of corn
• Improved use of Kingswood computer package to make better informed decisions and “what if scenarios” to stay ahead of the game.
• Improved herd health – mastitis, lameness and disease control
• A mature herd (14% of herd first calvers) contributed to milk output improvement

So what happened this year?

The farm got off to a good start in February at turn-out as Phil carried surplus grass through the winter remarkably well, given the hard frost and snow of 2010/11.

Cows were out at grass day and night from 14th of February, fed 7 kg DM/ cow of grass and 6 kg of corn and 2 kg of silage until mid-March (no silage was fed from March to October).

From early to mid-April cows were fully fed 14 kg of grass and 4 kg of corn, which went to 16 kg grass dry matter and 2 kg corn from late April to mid-October.

No prolonged drought period, with a recorded rainfall of 4.3 mm of rain per day between April and October; this contributed to good grass growth.

Improvements to be made in 2012/13

• Reduce number of late calvers / tighten spring calving to 11 weeks
• Continue to improve yield
• Reduce lameness – currently mobility scoring 92% as 0 and 1s, 3% score 2s and 5% score 3. Need to reduce score 3s to 0% by improving tracks and surfaces.
• Continue to improve fertility
• Try to reduce corn use
• Grow 14 tonnes DM/ha of grass
• Re-seed 10% of the farm each spring / Improve soil nutrients and compaction with sub-soiling as part of the reseeding programme

Ed Hayes

Ed Hayes

Farm vet Ed Hayes from Macclesfield-based Wright and Morten (part of the XL Vets group) was also at hand to give an honest, open and systematic approach to costing vet time and work on farm using the same lean management principles.

He broke down the jobs he does on farm into two categories, the ones he wants to charge for and sees as having the most benefit on farm – such as disease screening, vaccines, fertility work and preventative measures, and the ones he doesn’t want to be charging for – such as emergency out of hours cases and crisis situations, as those cases don’t see as much value for money for time spent. The message being prevention rather than cure.

Ed said: “Through being a monitor farm we now have more data and more figures to work with and time to assess issues with Phil. Two to three years ago we were guessing as to what the problems were but now we are working with stats and figures to make more informed decisions.

“Clive Hall is just above UK average on vet spend, but we do a lot of fertility work and I’m proud of the pence per litre profitability figures. We’ve been able to alter the breakdown of spend and make better use of vet time to improve production.

“Reducing disease takes time to see results come through but we’re seeing it go in the right direction.”

In the war on costs to improve profits, Clive Hall now has the Lean Management principles and approach in place to use the data that is collected to meet the financial aspirations of Phil and his team at Grassland Solutions.

(Report by Adrian Capstick)