Tough Times

Dairy farmers are finding it extremely difficult to make ends meet. High input costs and low milk prices are causing farmers to experience financial difficulties, which left unchecked could leave many in Dire Straits.

As a Technical Advisor employed by Meadow Feeds, I have the privilege of visiting many farmers on a regular basis and over the years I have seen many different management styles. I have also identified common factors which make some farmers more successful than others.

I have identified a few practical aspects which if implemented and managed correctly could help ease the financial burden.

Milk recording should be done every day and at each milking and daily productions recorded. One cannot manage something if you cannot measure it. Milk records will aid in the identification of sick animals, cows coming on heat and with feeding management.

Divide the dairy herd into as many production groups as practically possible, this will enable you to feed more accurately. Prevents the overfeeding of low producers and the underfeeding of high producers.

Fresh cows must be fed high quality rations ensuring high peaks. The higher the peak the more milk will be produced during the lactation.

Low production cows milking under break even must be dried up or culled if not in calf. It does not pay to milk low producing cows at a loss in order to keep the bulk tank full. A lower turnover with a higher profit margin is better than a high turnover with no profit margin.

Cows being milked 3 times a day produce 10-15% more milk than cows being milked 2 times per day. Bear in mind that input costs will rise slightly as feed levels will increase to compensate for higher production levels.

Cows with persistent mastitis and fertility problems should be culled as the cost of treating these cows can become very costly. Manage your labour force properly. More labourers does not mean more productivity. Identify good workers and give them better incentives. Fewer people are managed easier.

Bull calves not intended for breeding or sale must be sold as soon after birth as possible, this will lighten the burdens on your cash flow.

Heifers not intended for breeding or resale must be sold as soon as possible. Rather rear fewer heifers properly than many poorly. A well reared heifer will come into production a lot earlier and produce more milk than a poorly grown heifer.

Poor-quality roughages can be treated to improve quality. Feed this roughage to non-productive animals as their nutritional requirements are a lot lower than that of producing animals.

Produce the best quality roughages possible, this will help reduce the levels of concentrate feeding. Rather produce less roughage of a high quality than a lot of poor quality roughage.

Make sure that you know what it costs you to produce a ton of roughage, it may be cheaper to buy in roughage from other producers. Group young animals according to age and mass as this makes it easier to feed the animal according to its nutritional requirements. Prevents over and under feeding.

If heat detection and conceptions are poor-, employ the aid of a bull (Buy from a breeder with a good track record).

This will aid you in getting the cows into calf quicker. Cows with very long calving intervals can prove to be costly in the long run. Half a calf is better than none.

Keep overhead costs as low as possible and keep stock levels to a minimum. This will improve your cash flow.

Try and avoid unnecessary debt, high interest rates could kill your business.

It is not always the farmer with the most modern dairy parlour and fancy facilities who is making the most money.

Profit margins in the dairy industry are low and one must avoid spending money on items that will not improve productions or the profit margins of your business.

Keep to the basics and don’t make dairy farming more complicated than it has to be. Focus on the aspects of your business that will determine its viability and have well defined goals.

Keep it simple and straight forward.

Date published: 2003-10-08

Riaan Smith