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Summit highlights benefits of focussing on FEED EFFICIENCY IN DAIRY HERDS

A failure to improve feed efficiency (FCE) in dairy cows will have significant environmental and economic consequences at both a farm and global level, as delegates at a major global summit arranged by Keenans and Enterprise Ireland were told. The summit, held simultaneously at Irish Embassies in London,

Washington DC, The Hague, Paris, Dublin and Berlin and viewed live on-line by a global audience, drew together leading researchers and academics to debate the importance of FCE, and to initiate an industry wide campaign to increase awareness of the opportunity to improve FCE in dairy herds. “The recent Foresight report on global food and farming futures

confirms we need to significantly increase global food output,” explained Gerard Keenan, Executive Chairman of Keenans. “We must also get serious about increasing efficiency of resource use, reducing the resources used per unit of output while protecting the environment and reducing our reliance on fossil fuels. Quite simply, we must challenge the ways we farm. “To meet the anticipated future global demand for milk, an additional

313m tonnes of dairy feed would be needed per annum if no changes are made to farming systems, requiring additional land equivalent to the total farmed area in Ireland. And this just will not happen due to other competing demands on land use. The alternative is to use feed more efficiently.” Opening the Summit, Professor Liam Downey, Honorary Professor

of Agriculture and Food Science at University College Dublin and the past chairman of the EU and National Foresight projects relating to agriculture argued that the food industry is of strategic global importance, but that decades of international policies had shown no more than a ‘benign interest’ in agriculture. But this needs to change quickly. “We need to ask what would agriculture in Europe look like in 2030

if there was no fundamental shift in approaches to farming and, more importantly, what could it look like if there were? “To meet the global challenges we have to change and focus

on developing ‘sustainable’ farming systems. And ‘sustainable’ encompasses several elements. These include the ability to produce the food the market requires while meeting animal health and welfare needs. It means being environmentally sustainable with the ability to cope with climate change, being energy efficient, and most importantly being profitable at farm level. “All this will require fundamental change.” Professor David Beever from the University of Reading told

delegates that increasing FCE offers an enormous opportunity to improve output and farm profits, and was essential for the development of sustainable dairy farming systems. “Dairy herd performance is under increasing pressure due to

animal factors such as declining fertility performance; economic factors including milk and feed prices and due to environmental factors such as water use and NVZ constraints. “The milk price : feed price ratio is deteriorating and is predicted to continue to do so. Feed represents over 40% of the cash cost of dairying, yet the efficiency with which it is used varies enormously. If we can feed cows more efficiently we can reduce


total feed costs per litre of milk produced leading to better margins for the producer. This will also release land for other activities. And we know it is perfectly possible to markedly increase FCE.” Professor Beever explained that FCE is kg of energy corrected milk

produced per kg DMI. He explained that energy correction is essential to allow meaningful comparisons and measurement of improvement, although different countries may use a different base. “In the EU we standardise on 4% BF & 3.3% protein, while in the US

they use 3.5% BF & 3.0% protein. But this doesn’t really matter because it is comparisons within regions that are most significant. What matters is that the same calculation is used as a standard in a particular country or region. “Today’s high genetic merit dairy cows have the potential to produce

1.5kg milk energy corrected milk/kgDM consumed, yet the average is closer to 1.2kg energy corrected milk/kgDM consumed. If the higher level was achieved we could produce an additional 60M tonnes of milk per year in the EU and US, from the same cows and the same land use. This extra milk is roughly 25% of the FAO’s stated aim for 2050,” he stresses. “Higher FCE releases resources for other uses, be it land for other

enterprises or feed ingredients for use by other livestock. And improving FCE can have a major environmental impact. “Increasing FCE would reduce the losses to the environment

of nitrogen and phosphorus. It would also reduce methane output. Increasing FCE from 1.2 to 1.5 reduces methane production by 20% (see graph 1). Higher FCE also greatly reduces the water demand per litre.

GRAPH 1: Effect of increasing FCE on methane production per litre

“If we can increase FCE by just 0.1litres/kg DM consumed, for a

cow producing 7,500 litres we would save 480kgDM per year. Imagine what we could save across the 1.8M cows in the UK and the impact on farm margins.” If dairy farmers need to understand how improving FCE can

benefit their business they need look no further than the pig industry, according to David Holzgraefe, animal nutritionist with US feed giants ADM Research, one of the participants in the summit. “US pig producers have made significant improvements in

performance because they identified FCE as a key metric, they measured it and managed it, and dairy farmers would be well advised to do the same. “In 1985 pig FCE in the US was around 280kglwg/tonne feed DM but by 2010 this had increased to 400kg/tonne feed DM – a 40% improvement. At today’s feed prices, a 1% FCE improvement is worth an extra $1 (USD) margin per pig sold, so producers really focus on FCE, knowing it drives profit. With feed typically making up over half the costs of milk production there are similar opportunities open to dairy farmers

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