The worst thing about brewers grains is when you stop feeding them, according to a Cheshire producer who has used co-products in his milking herd, dry cow and heifer rations for as long as he can remember.
Keeping a lid on feed costs without losing performance is a challenge in any high production dairy herd.
However, Ian Richardson from Church Farm, Warmingham, Sandbach, Cheshire, has been able to cut costs and increase performance while almost doubling the size of his herd, by judiciously choosing and balancing his feeds.
Milking 600 Holsteins, he says a combination of co-products – currently brewers grains and Trafford syrup – and high quality forage has been key to both physical and financial performance on his 324-hectare (800- acre) farm.
This combination has helped support yields of 10,500 litres at 4% fat and 3.3% protein on twice-a-day milking, including some 3,000 litres from forage.
Although he chooses not to divulge his costs of production, he intends to stick with his feeding formula due to its ongoing success.
He says brewers grains have been part of the ration since he ‘was a lad’, and over the years have been obtained from various sources.
However, inconsistency in supply had too often blighted past deliveries which eventually motivated him to switch to a company which effectively manages high volumes and would help him with on-farm storage, serviced by a reliable delivery network.
He adds: “Brewers grains are a fantastic product, but the worst thing about feeding them is when you stop.” About six years ago the experience led him to the UK’s leading co-product supplier, Duynie Feed, where he intends to remain owing to the company’s continuing high standards of service.
“We had the opportunity to switch to Duynie and it was the level of service which drew me towards them.
“Service to me is everything and they are prompt and proactive, always text messaging a time for my order and giving me the opportunity to change.
The driver will also phone en route, which helps with my daily planning.” All of this builds confidence in supply and is enhanced by the free installation of a liquid feed silo, which gives substantially more flexibility.
He adds: “Duynie supplied us with a 50-tonne capacity silo about five years ago which they will keep topped up ahead of factory shutdowns, if necessary with split loads, to make sure we never run short.”
"Service to me is everything and they [Duynie] are prompt and proactive"
Mr Richardson also uses the co-product Trafford Syrup, which is produced by Cargill’s in Manchester and is available through a supply network across north west England and north Wales.
He says: “We were introduced to Trafford syrup through a discussion group which is run by our farm consultants.
People in the group were using it and seemed to get good results and eventually it was used by the whole group.
“Now we feed it in our total mixed ration [TMR], where it helps everything bind together.
We generally consider it as an alternative to a blend, although we also find it especially useful for dry cows where it increases palatability and intake of a straw-based diet.” Nutritionist Emily Keep, of Duynie, confirms this is a popular use for Trafford syrup.
She says: “This is one of our wheat-based syrups which is a co-product of ethanol production.
Its starch has been removed for the wheat’s primary use, but this leaves the protein, oil, minerals and even fibre, making it a valuable ingredient in many rations.” In fact, Trafford syrup brings to the ration a metabolisable energy (ME) of 14MJ/kg dry matter (DM) and crude protein of 27.5% (in the DM).
It has good digestibility and contains high levels of yeast fragments, and at 30% DM, its moisture helps make it highly palatable, driving DM intakes.
As well as being used in the milking and dry cow ration, it has also a place in Mr Richardson’s heifer diet, which he targets a calving age of 23-24 months.
He says: “Now we feed them a TMR of silage, straw and minerals with Trafford syrup from six months of age, and feed no nut at all.” Brewers grains have been another long-term favourite on-farm, also helping to boost DM intakes and considered central to the milking herd’s performance.
Mr Richardson adds: “They are a cost-effective form of energy and protein which we treat as a blend replacer.
You cannot put your finger on it, but brewers grains have that x-factor.
There is no doubt that when we stop feeding them our milk production reduces.” Today, the milking herd’s TMR comprises grass, maize and sometimes wholecrop silage, brewers grains, caustic wheat, chopped straw, Trafford syrup and a bespoke blend to balance these ingredients and the forage analysis.
He says: “We feed less blend than before and our feed costs are definitely lower.” But it is not just about the costs, according to Mr Richardson, who is more carbon-conscious than he has ever been before.
“Our farm has changed drastically over the past 10 or 20 years.
We had 200-250 cows back in 2000, 350 about five years ago, and have gradually increased to 600.
Our focus has changed over these years, but carbon will inevitably be the next big thing.” Selling milk to Sainsbury’s, Mr Richardson knows that lowering the farm’s carbon footprint will be essential in meeting future market demands, although it also feels like there is a moral pressure in striving for this goal.
“Using co-products has absolutely got to be helping us lower our carbon footprint.
If we can use ingredients from Manchester, especially those which have already fulfilled a primary use, it has to be better than buying imported feeds,” Mr Richardson adds.