Pasture to Profit Conference

Published 15 November 12

Using information, and the right kind of information, to build success in your dairy business was a clear message running through this year's BGS/LIC Pasture to Profit Conference, held at Worcester on November 8th. Below are key points from some of the speakers.

David Chin, from LIC New Zealand, who works with some of New Zealand's largest farming operations, spoke about using the information and acting on it.

The amount of information available to dairy farmers can be mind blowing. Take just six cow side data points (milk yield, liveweight, SCC, protein yield, milk fat yield and feed intake) and you'll get 720,000 data points from a 400 cow herd over 300 days.

As a rule dairy farmers are not data analysts and just because you're collecting a lot of data it doesn't necessarily mean you are making better decisions.

First know what you're trying to achieve and then use the right data to get there.

Be prepared to use this information to challenge orthodox thinking, otherwise you'll miss opportunities.

Wastage in a herd is a key metric. The longer you keep a cow in the herd the more money she will make.

Karolina Klaskova, from Milkbench+, talked about how Milkbench+ information can be used to challenge some pre-conceptions about the dairy industry.

Karolina explained that Milkbench+ information shows the following:

  • There is no relationship between milk price and net margin (bottom line profit).
  • There is a strong relationship between the cost of production and net margin (and you see this in dairy systems across the world).
  • Four profit drivers explain over 50% of the net margin variations, with different weightings for different farming systems.
  • There is no relationship between yield and net margin
  • There is a relationship between yield/hectare and net margin. Net margin is not driven by yield but by stocking rate.
  • Milk can be produced efficiently from any of the major systems that are currently practised in Britain.
  • More efficient milk production is possible at almost any scale of production. The top 10% of farms in all systems are making a good profit.
  • There are much bigger differences in profitability within systems than between systems.
  • The need to fit the system to your own circumstance has never been more important

Tom Foot and Neil Grigg, and their herd manager Nick Haines, talked about how an idea formed in 2009 to go into business with each other (Prospect Farming),and how the goal to be milking cows in 2012, led to them milking over 300 cows through two mobile milking units on a former arable farm in Dorset this year.

Prospect Farming had cows out at grass keep across Dorset and had leased cows out for the 2011 season before the opportunity at Longlands Farm, a predominantly arable unit, arose. In July 2011 a five year farm business tenancy was secured for the 360 hectare block.

When Tom and Neil looked at putting up a new parlour the £700,000 to £1million that would be required did not add up. Capital investments needed to be viewed in light of the fact that they will be paid £1 for any improvements at the end of the five year tenancy.

  • Money goes into cows, the things that make money, not that will depreciate.
  • Instead the herd is now milked once a day through two mobile parlours, moved daily.
  • Instead of spending £30,000 on troughs two mobile water troughs were assembled to be towed to paddocks the cows were grazing.
  • Getting the right team in was essential and once Nick was employed he went on to build a strong team.

Although mobile milking was not ideal Neil and Tom say they have "done what we've done in order to get milking." Longlands Farm was a massive opportunity that they were not going to let pass by.


Dan Lovatt returned to the UK after contract milking in New Zealand in 2009. He took on the management of Manor Farm (a farm he had previously helped lay the first concrete sleepers for cow tracks before his move to New Zealand), owned by John and Jane Furnivall.

  • Dan took on the tenancy of Oldford Farm (215 acre farm previously operated as a livery yard) with John and Jane Furnivall.
  • Dan owns a percentage of the stock and receives the same percentage of profits.
  • As stock numbers grow Dan increases his equity in the business.
  • A tight time frame, as stocking rates were running high at Manor Farm, and within 16 weeks the farm went from horse paddocks  and wheat stubble to new grass, 26 paddocks, 800 sleepers laid, 36km of fencing, new ring water system and a 30:60 milking parlour.
  • This season they milked 240 cows on the block and the plan is to increase numbers to 350 next season.
  • Stick to budgets - if it's not in there we don't spent it.  "One of my key drivers is to keep everyone but the milk tanker out of the farm gate", says Dan.

Final points from the conference

There was a continuation on the theme of records, as the afternoon's speakers showed that with good records used well, the management of fertility and mastitis is much easier.  Key points were:

  • Record, find the cause /problem
  • Put a plan in place to attack the cause.
  • Review the outcomes.

Infertility is a management disease and there are 8 areas to concentrate on in tackling it:

  • calving pattern
  • good well grown heifers
  • body condition and nutrition
  • heat detection
  • genetics
  • non cyclers
  • bull management
  • cow health

Get these right and fertility works, data, analyse, pinpoint, act, review and act again.