While there is a drive to become ever more efficient in all types of agriculture, there becomes a point where bigger is not necessarily better. Whether it be livestock or arable, sheep, cattle or pigs, getting the right level of stock and equipment for your own business can make a big difference. Getting the “goldilocks effect” on your outputs, being “just right” for your own system can be the key.
As this article is written, the milk price is rising, yet is still someway short of an ideal level. While some dairy enterprises have the efficiency to be making profits, and generating cash, many dairy farms are still suffering from the last eighteen months or so. Making profits is not always the same as making money. Some farmers may be tempted to increase cow numbers, or try to feed their way to higher production. This can sometimes be a false economy. Adding cow numbers may require additional accommodation for them. With the cost of dairy cattle increasing compared to as little as six months ago, together with the potentially significant investment on a farms sheds, and sometimes slurry facilities, costs mount up, labour requirements increase and feed availability/procurement must be taken into account too.
On a grazing system, available grazing platforms must be available within reasonable distance from the milking area, together with ensuring there is no detrimental effect to the access tracks. This can mean that the cropping area, either on owned or rented land can be further away from the steading, which could increase contracting costs, not just of the cropping itself, but also the application of slurry and fertiliser. Will there be enough crop available, or will additional purchases be needed? Margin over purchased feed is also a big issue, and sometimes one not considered. On a year round housed system, the cropping platform and storage facilities may need upgraded too, not just the cubicle shed. Again, more land may be required, and if the only available land is a distance from the main steading, then additional “hidden” costs would undoubtedly be incurred. Feeding cows to achieve a hopefully higher output can again have hidden costs. Is longevity preserved? Do you have the right genetics to suit your own system? Will fertility suffer as a result? Does your milking equipment allow you to have a bigger herd or higher production? Are your slurry facilities sufficient and is the disposal of the slurry easily available, be it land spreading or digester feed? Disposal of the slurry or even digestate, could be hampered, particularly if NVZ’s cover your available land. With milk prices as they are, dairy farmers should ideally be armed with their cost of production and margin over purchased feed at the least.
Bigger is not always better, it is simply another way of farming the land available, problems are not necessarily larger, but management of the issues, good or bad, that face you as a business owner may define your business moving forward! Standing still is not always a step backwards, and careful consideration should always be made when looking to change the scale of your operation.
If you would like to discuss any of these issues further, then please do not hesitate in contacting either Will Robinson at Carlisle on 01228 534371 or email firstname.lastname@example.org, or one of the Agricultural Team spread right across Cumbria & South West Scotland.