Prospects For Winter Dairy 2021/22

Prospects For Winter Dairy 2021/22

Phil Evans, Field Sales Manager and Dairy Specialist

The last 18 months or so have been difficult to say the least. Covid has changed the world in so many ways some good and some bad. Brexit has added to the challenge and brought some opportunities.
Most industries are struggling with staffing levels, longer lead times for deliveries and price increases that are eye wateringly high. Dairying is no different in that respect, but as always getting a milk price increase is a slow and painful process. The good news is that milk prices are now finally creeping up.
The Nov GDT milk auction has just achieved the highest average price since 2014 therefore global milk prices are picking up steadily.

There can only be one reason for this and that is a shortage of milk. If you look at daily milk deliveries in the UK they are currently running 2% below last year, which equates to 660,000 litres less per day. The graph below this trend looks like it could continue or quite likely get worse.

We are now finally getting some realistic price increases of 3ppl in January, taking some standard litre prices over 35 pence. But let’s not kid ourselves with input prices constantly increasing, we will need more, and its only while milk supplies are tight do we have any chance of this happening.

Why is milk production down?
There are many reasons, but the most obvious one is forage quality. If you remember we had a wetter than average winter and then a very dry and cold April. This slowed grass growth down significantly early on which meant that not many farms were able to take a cut of silage in early May. Some farms that did cut were picking up “lawn clippings”. Unfortunately, just as grass yields started to look reasonable in Mid-May, it started to rain and didn’t really stop until June.
This has meant that many farms who would normally cut first week of May, were nearly a month later cutting. Some of these clamps are huge and many didn’t need much of a second cut.
Unfortunately, a by-product of this bulk is that fibre levels increased massively and reduced D values and energy levels. A rough rule of thumb would be, for every day after a crop reaches 70D we lose half a unit of D value, e.g., if you were 3 weeks late cutting this year you could have lost 11 units of digestibility which would equate to a reduction 1.6 units of energy. What could have been a silage around 11.5 ME in a normal year could well have dropped to around 10 ME this year.
This is an extreme example but not unusual this year.
However, if you look at the averages for this year’s 1st cut compared to last year, on the face of it there doesn’t seem to be a massive difference.

As you can see there aren’t massive differences between this and last year’s silages (remember averages can hide a lot), but if you add all those little differences in terms of energy and the reduction in protein, they start to become more significant.

Look at crude protein levels in this year’s first cut.
Assuming a cow eats 12kg of silage dry matter
Last year: 12 x 14.6% = 1752 grams of protein per day
This year: 12 x 13.2% = 1584 grams of protein per day.
This is a reduction of 168 grams per day.
To replace this, for example, if previously feeding 5kg of an 18% protein blend or cake you would now need to feed a 21% protein instead.

More significantly when you compare the predicted silage intake which has dropped from 109 to 97.6, this suggests intakes will only be 88% of last year’s. This could mean a reduction of silage intake of around 1.5 kg of Dry Matter. This would equate to about 3 litres of milk per cow per day. This is a huge reduction and one I am seeing on farm daily.

How do I balance these silages?
If it’s purely a protein shortage, then it can be relatively simple to replace the rumen fermentable protein that the forage is missing. If the problem is energy and intake, then this can be more difficult and more costly to correct. To replace the 3 litres lost due to intakes requires an extra 1.5 kg of concentrate which at today’s prices could easily cost 45 pence per cow per day. Careful rationing is required even more than usual as the feed cost milk price ratio is not at its best at the moment.
As I have discussed average silages in this article, to make a specific recommendation is impossible. There are some excellent silages out there and some very ordinary ones which need to be balanced individually. Unfortunately, as some of these silages were very late being harvested the yields were massive, they are going to take some eating!
It’s definitely worth resampling these silages during the winter as many farms now have silage coming in from different parcels of land in the same clamp. These could vary hugely in quality.
This is very likely in blocks of rented land that have been grazed to nothing by tack sheep, so could have fitted in with this year’s first cut if it had been delayed until June! This would have been much younger grass of higher energy and protein.
The answer is to test the silage and not assume.