31st March 2016

Opportunities to Reduce Costs Through Effective Feed Budgeting

The Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) grazing group project has benefited from the expertise of several grassland production specialists, since it began in 2014.

Among these experts is New Zealander Trevor Cook who recently visited the hosts of the six regional grazing groups and shared his ideas on how to reduce feed costs and increase stocking rates.

A vet to trade, Mr Cook works with farmers advising on how to improve productivity by adjusting  feed and management systems. Mr Cook has made regular trips to Scotland and is very familiar with the Scottish climate and the challenges it poses for cattle and sheep producers here and believes there is real potential to maintain productivity while reducing costs.

Michael Blanche, Knowledge Transfer Specialist with QMS is delighted with the progress that farmers taking part in the grazing groups have reported. He said: "It is great having the support of Trevor who has seen first-hand the difference good pasture management can make to efficiency of production in New Zealand. Now, in the final season of the grazing group project, we are starting to see some impressive results here."

He continued: “As a result of changes made on farm, all six grazing groups are reporting improved production and/or reductions in costs.  Those who have managed to increase their reliance on pasture have been able to reduce the amount of feed they have purchased and have seen a significant benefit to their business as a result.”

Mr Cook has been impressed with the performance of the livestock farms he has visited in Scotland but he believes the cost of production is still too high. He said: "The question is how to lower production costs without compromising productivity? I believe using pasture more effectively as the cornerstone of the feed resource is the way to save money."

During his most recent trip to Scotland, Mr Cook produced an annual feed budget for each of the six Grazing Group hosts after analysing their farms and farming systems. Mr Blanche said: "Feed budgeting refers mostly to pasture, hence it’s a calculation of how much grass stock need to eat at different times of the year and then relating that to the amount of grass grown.

“The idea is that as we monitor grass growth - and know exactly how our stock requirements are going to change through the season - we can cast forward and see where the challenges are going to be.  This may involve using supplementary feed or applying a small amount of nitrogen to achieve optimum sward heights at crucial times of year.”

He added: "What is obvious is that - whether or not we feed budget - spring is always the challenge.  However, by feed budgeting we have far more control.  Spring pasture covers can be manipulated if you know what your target is.  We’ve been trialling feed budgeting software and its message is clear - achieving target pasture covers in early March can transform both stocking rates and feed expenditure."   

Mr Cook is very aware that there are climatic limitations in Scotland, particularly in upland areas, which will not allow a totally grass-based system. However, he said: "The hard winters should not preclude using a grass system more effectively. Maybe the way to go in Scotland is to supplement the grazing with feed but still out-winter therefore saving housing costs. I can see opportunities in a lot of farms in Scotland to be more efficient in timing and type of feed."

Alex Brewster, who hosts the Perthshire grazing group at his Rotmell Farm near Dunkeld said: "It is great to hear Trevor's ideas; he takes a holistic view of the whole farm business and what needs to be done to make it profitable. Maybe in the short term we won’t get away from supplementary feeding, but that doesn’t mean we cannot take the principles of excellent pastoral grazing systems and find a way to integrate them into our farm businesses in Scotland."

Sign up for the latest news and views