Marginal Litres

RJ1

Member
Location
Wales
I've just caught up on John Roche's ADHB presentation on marginal litres. I also saw him give a similar one at Positive Farmers a few yrs ago.

To anyone that's not seen it, the gist is that in spring calving grazing systems, feeding concentrates (or other bought feed) brings significantly more cost than just the cost of the feed itself. It's roughly 1.6 times the cost of feed.

What wasn't clear was what these costs are likely to be, particularly if you've had to put up infrastructure e.g. cubicles due to needing them for winter anyway and you've already got feeders in the parlour. What are the extra costs likely to be to take it up to the amount the many studies put the figure at? Is it a bit lower labour, meds etc for cows under more stress?

Similarly, I found it difficult to put the advice in our position as new entrants, needing cash to service loans. I know that he said some of the extra litres were potentially costing me, but difficult to reconcile.

Very interesting stuff and certainly made me think (and confuse myself!).
 

rusty

Member
I think it’s very difficult to pin down as everyone has different circumstances. From my own experiences of reducing yields and moving to autumn block calving we have saved massively on purchased feed per litre but also vet cost per litre. However we have also rented extra land to reduce stocking rate and make more high quality forage for each cow.
From benchmarking data I have seen higher yielding herds probably have lower labour costs per litre and forage/fertiliser costs but not much else. This usually won’t compensate for the massively higher purchased feed costs.
 

Sandpit Farm

Member
NFFN Member
Location
Derbyshire
I have been prepping for a podcast on purchased feeds and looking at the AHDB figures for 2018/19 for high yielding AYR calving herds, it looks like the range of purchased feed cost as a percentage of total cash cost was 43-49%. Not sure that applies here but it'd be interesting to know what 2021/22 figures would be. Feed has increased by 12.5% which is tiny compared to fuel increase at 54% and fert at 238% but if it is half of cash costs the 12.5% has a greater effect.

For grazing herds I think the cost saving of handling feed, moving slurry and the later cost of spreading that slurry is underestimated when the cows are grazing and it more than covers the cost of moving fences and measuring grass.

Labourwise - I don't really like benchmarking this as a cost we should reduce, more a cost we need to justify. I have seen labour/output as being 1 unit/700k litres and I have also seen it as 1 person/£200k revenue (industry uses £250k). What is never clear is how much forage work is being done by staff etc. It is sometimes better to consider hrs/cow place/yr (industry says this should be below 25hrs... I'd debate that again).

In terms of constraints. Milking platform as a percentage of land is an interesting one. There is a suggestion that <60% is not great for cost in a SBC system.

Not sure if any of this has helped
 

RJ1

Member
Location
Wales
I have been prepping for a podcast on purchased feeds and looking at the AHDB figures for 2018/19 for high yielding AYR calving herds, it looks like the range of purchased feed cost as a percentage of total cash cost was 43-49%. Not sure that applies here but it'd be interesting to know what 2021/22 figures would be. Feed has increased by 12.5% which is tiny compared to fuel increase at 54% and fert at 238% but if it is half of cash costs the 12.5% has a greater effect.
Yes, we looked at this in our recent review and even with the massive fert increases, it's still a lot cheaper than upping the cake.

For grazing herds I think the cost saving of handling feed, moving slurry and the later cost of spreading that slurry is underestimated when the cows are grazing and it more than covers the cost of moving fences and measuring grass.
I would agree that slurry costs are significant. But ours wouldn't be coming in unless ground conditions dictated, we were running out of grass or grass not high enough quality. So, on that basis, I can't see the marginal litres costing a great deal because the housing costs are there anyway. What's the additional slurry costing? I understand it in a NZ outwintering system where there are specific investments/time put into getting feed other than grass into them but it's not as clear in our context.

E.g. if feeding through parlour, how is going from say 2kg to 4kg a day going to cost me significantly more than the cost of feed?

I'm willing to believe it and if we can make as much money off fewer litres - great, but I can't work it out!
 

Sandpit Farm

Member
NFFN Member
Location
Derbyshire
This is where it is interesting. If you have a cow palace that is relatively new, the depreciation costs require an out put that makes the most of that investment. You end up being tied into those slurry handling and feed mixing costs because you have set the infrastructure around that. Your options end up being cut and carry to maximise forage quality or grazing a low group in the Spring/Summer/Autumn and certainly grazing youngstock in those months.

In older, less ideal buildings - which are what many Spring calving farms would be operating with, you have to make the most of the grazing on the shoulders and try to budget to maintain growth and prolong the wedge. That is where the marginal litres would come from surely. The ideal would be to get cows out in February and keep them out until late October (or even November). You save your slurry costs and have lower depreciation costs.

I think grass budgeting is useful as you can then plan a multicut system a little better and perhaps use buffer feeding when there is drought or perhaps later in the year when grazed grass quality drops off.

Rusty would have a better take on it for an ABC herd
 

Sandpit Farm

Member
NFFN Member
Location
Derbyshire
But at the shoulders of the year on spring calving systems a little bit more cake pushes your peak a little higher and that should be more milk over the year ,
Is that classed as a marginal gain

It could do I guess. The answer is very system dependant and contract dependant. I would be looking at whether there were a way to increase the peak slightly at lower cost. If the cost of putting the peak up is the same as the income that is derived from the additional litres, that is your pivot point. For me, I would want to know it was worth my while significantly to justify it.

The problem comes where people mask poor grass and forage management by feeding cake. Grazing becomes something cows do as a hobby rather than a living if you know what I mean. One of the negatives with feeding lots of goodies is you can get cows waiting for an hour by the gate and not grazing so you end up having to feed to compensate for the hit. It is another reason why buffer feeding can be a pain.

*Edit - I am not speaking as an authority on it, far from it. Just interested to further the discussion.
 

RJ1

Member
Location
Wales
But at the shoulders of the year on spring calving systems a little bit more cake pushes your peak a little higher and that should be more milk over the year ,
Is that classed as a marginal gain
John Roche defined marginal milk as the additional milk achieved when making a change to a system.

What i took away was that partial budgets (margin over feed etc) didn't tell the whole story.

And I can understand that if my change of plan involves buyinga feeder wagon of some sort and running it when I would otherwise feed with a grab. But not when it would be a modest increase through the parlour, provided you continue to manage grass well. I guess there's a tipping point in that particular case where too much concern would put pressure on the cow and then you have more health issues etc.

@In the pit yes, I think there's a sweet spot, it's just that all the research in the webinar came to such similar added costs it's made me question pushing for a little more.

BTW, I wasn't thinking about AYR herds here.
 

Farmer Keith

Member
Location
North Cumbria
I inadvertently ran an experiment here last winter due to a lack of silage with the dry summer in 2020 here. Fed more cake plus mixed in distillers grains with the silage to span it out. Did we get more milk? Absolutely. Did we make more money? Probably not in the long term. Fertility wasn’t where it usually was leading to more cows calving later and a higher empty rate which in turn feeds into a higher replacement rate and so you go on. Really difficult to put exact figures on all of those things but there’s a lot of costs you don’t see on top of the bigger feed bill and the cost associated with feeding it out. They’re called marginal litres for a reason I suppose.
 
Location
southwest
Extra feed means spending more money which costs if you have any debt. then they're the poorer utilisation of grass or silage. And the cows being pushed a tad harder might slip back a few days on C.I. , increased production related disease such as mastitis and staggers, possibly more difficult calvings as some of that feed will go to the calf-all of which could lead to a higher culling rate which really runs away with the money.
 

Spear

Member
Livestock Farmer
Location
North Devon
Some benchmarking figures I saw a few years ago, for every extra 1p spent on concentrates , all costs went up by 1.5p/l.
This was across all herds and would have been influenced by high conc. herds having expensive ways of feeding their cows.
Well at todays prices then. Every 1kg of cake would cost more than any milk produced
 

som farmer

Member
Livestock Farmer
Location
somerset
never believed the quoted, 1kg conc = 2 litres of milk.
but so much depends on what stage of lactation, or condition, your cows are at, we tend to feed slightly more before and during service period, but that can be extra maize silage as well. But would look to cut right back, once, hopefully, i/c and on good grazing.
Chasing those extra marginal litres, looks great on paper, or cake reps patter, but never responds as claimed.
 

RJ1

Member
Location
Wales
I inadvertently ran an experiment here last winter due to a lack of silage with the dry summer in 2020 here. Fed more cake plus mixed in distillers grains with the silage to span it out. Did we get more milk? Absolutely. Did we make more money? Probably not in the long term. Fertility wasn’t where it usually was leading to more cows calving later and a higher empty rate which in turn feeds into a higher replacement rate and so you go on. Really difficult to put exact figures on all of those things but there’s a lot of costs you don’t see on top of the bigger feed bill and the cost associated with feeding it out. They’re called marginal litres for a reason I suppose.

Extra feed means spending more money which costs if you have any debt. then they're the poorer utilisation of grass or silage. And the cows being pushed a tad harder might slip back a few days on C.I. , increased production related disease such as mastitis and staggers, possibly more difficult calvings as some of that feed will go to the calf-all of which could lead to a higher culling rate which really runs away with the money.

I think this is the crux isn't it? Small changes resulting from the extra pressure which you can only properly quantify when you look back at the change and what the extra replacements etc have cost you.

Although there must be a point where the extra is profitable before it starts costing? I guess the challenge is realising that point.
 

easy farming

Member
Livestock Farmer
never believed the quoted, 1kg conc = 2 litres of milk.
but so much depends on what stage of lactation, or condition, your cows are at, we tend to feed slightly more before and during service period, but that can be extra maize silage as well. But would look to cut right back, once, hopefully, i/c and on good grazing.
Chasing those extra marginal litres, looks great on paper, or cake reps patter, but never responds as claimed.
At higher levels of conc feeding you are 1:1 with milk.
 

RJ1

Member
Location
Wales
Different people will give you different substitution rates, I will ask for you. But if seasonality is in play it will almost certainly not pay.

That's why I asked seeing as you'd mentioned the ratio. Have seen anything between 2:1 and 1:1. We have no seasonality, which adds to the headscratching on marginal litres, return on concs etc!
 

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