Delivering savings through technology

Use of technology and data can deliver huge savings for livestock farms says Bob Kendal of Alltech. He explains how quantifying the production and use of feed can help farmers discover ways to make financial and environmental improvements to their businesses.

Feeding livestock is the single biggest cost for livestock enterprises, but is an area where significant improvements can be made with the help of technology, believes Bob Kendal, Ruminant Sales Manager for Alltech.

“Drought in the UK in recent years means many farmers have been struggling for forage and this prompted us to look at what we could do to help through improving efficiencies. Feed waste and input utilisation is a problem and not sustainable from a financial or environmental point of view.” The company undertook pilot studies across 34 dairy farms in the west of England and Wales. The units involved included both all-year-round and autumn/spring block calving systems feeding both partial and total mixed rations with grass silage, maize and wholecrop as forage. The study focused on the storage, feed out and cow stages of the feeding process.

Average loss of dry matter in the silage clamp sits at around 25% but silage also loses valuable quality, says the Alltech pilot study report. In the feed-out stage, losses include spillages, loading inaccuracy (including errors with mixing rations), insufficient feed barrier space and physical ration presentation. Improvements in those areas could increase feed conversion efficiency from 1.2 to 1.39 and result in an improvement of more than £75,000 for a typical farm feeding a TMR all year. Cow environment, rumen efficiency, health and fertility are all further areas where improvements can be made which will be seen on the farm’s bottom line. Overall its pilot study revealed that as much as 45% of grown and purchased feed inputs are lost or under-utilised between the field and the bulk tank or abattoir. This is equal to approximately £1 for every £3 spent, says Alltech.

Following the successful pilot study, the company launched its Navigate software and advisory service across the UK in 2019 to help tackle the problem. The free service involves a site visit where an advisor will take measurements to analyse what is happening on farms looking at pinch points across the whole feed process including the areas where waste typically occurs. Stage two is the assessment of that data which uses the Navigate computerised system of algorithms to quantify actual feed wastage percentages and financial losses. Finally a report is produced highlighting low-cost actions and quantifying their potential benefits.

Suitable for dairy and finishing beef units, the Navigate system scrutinises every step of silage production, storage, delivery and consumption. “For example, we can quantify losses through temperature loss in the clamp which gives the farmer data to allow him to make decisions on how and what to change.

“We can quantify potential improvements in efficiency based on the farmer’s own feed prices and milk price. It helps them direct their investment of time and money and is very much action based. It’s all about the little things that can add up to help minimise feed waste.

“It’s beneficial to the farmer in financial terms and fits well with our vision of a planet of plenty feeding 9 billion people in a sustainable way.”

Case study: Drumdeel Farm

Scottish dairy farmers Margo and Willie Webster contacted Alltech for help with improving both quality and quantity of silage produced for on farm for their 238 Holstein Friesian cows.

Discussions began over the phone and a visit to the farm in Fife was arranged to assess the previous year’s silage. This included testing which found that silage density was twice as high in the middle of the pit than at the sides. Advice was shared on how to lift and compact the grass, to create a concave pit by building up the sides before filling the middle.

“We were advised to fill the length of the pit in layers of approximately 15 centimetres and consolidating these rather than filling in sections from the back as we had done before,” says Margo.

Other advice included to use a silage additive and to take their first cut earlier. The Navigate process also identified other areas of improvement including the way total mixed ration (TMR) was being mixed to reduce inconsistency and help prevent cows sorting the ration. Water trough space, transition cows and youngstock management were also flagged up for potential improvement. But for now, the Websters are focusing on silage and maximising benefits of the suggestions.

“We have adopted Alltech’s recommendations from start to finish, and are confident we will reap the rewards,” concludes Margo. “Alltech provided the science and the evidence so we could convince the rest of our team to tackle the hidden waste we had accepted in the past.”


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