Better FCE could boost milk output

FEED conversion efficiency (FCE) in dairy cows has remained static for the last decade, despite clear evidence that improving it could help producers achieve better returns from their herd, and address environmental issues.

At a Keenan seminar, including satellite links between London, Washington, The Hague and Ireland, last week, Gerard Keenan told delegates the company had measured the performance of more than one million cows over the last 10 years.

“We have found no change in feed conversion efficiency in that time,” he said.

Mr Keenan’s belief that dairy farmers could make more from their current herd with appropriate feeding was backed by Bob Jolley from Iowa State University, USA. A study on 20 US farms had shown addressing all feeding issues and being highly accurate had helped those farms achieve a 7 per cent increase in efficiency and a 15 per cent rise in margin.

“The key to achieving this is to focus on making the most of everything,” he said.

David Beever of Keenan said dairy producers in the EU27 were currently achieving a FCE of 1.16kg milk produced for every kg of feed, but boosting it to 1.5kg would see an additional 43 million tonnes of milk being produced in Europe from the same number of cows. Including the US, production would rise by 60m tonnes, 25 per cent of the FAO target for 2030.

Besides increasing production from the same number of cows, feeding a mixed ration based on precise inputs would also reduce feed costs and methane production, said Prof Beever.

He believed tackling environmental issues had to be done, before ‘the environmentalists shut us down’.

Competition for land

Other specialists warned that if FCE was not tackled, dairying would be at risk. If the sector was not profitable, it would be unable to compete for land use in areas where crops could be grown.

Speaking at the event, David Holzgraefe, an animal nutritionist from ADM Research in the USA, said the pig industry had focussed on boosting FCE and had seen the figure increase dramatically. Today, a 1 per cent rise in FCE equates to a $1 (£0.63) increase in margin per pig sold.

“The message is focusing on FCE provides an opportunity for dairy and beef producers,” he said.

Improving Chinese dairy FCE

Keenan is working with the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture and researchers to look at how its dairy farmers can boost production.

Cows in China currently average less than 5,000kg a year, but with the population forecast to rise from 1.25bn to 1.4bn, yields will need to rise to meet demand.

As China adopts an increasingly western diet, dairy consumption is expected to increase from 6kg per head in 2000 to 40kg per head by 2015.

The company has a demonstration unit in Inner Mongolia, where feed conversion efficiency has risen by 30 per cent in four months to 1.3kg milk produced per kg of feed. This has a resulted in a $2 (£1.26) per cow per day improvement in margin, it said.


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