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Lives in livestock: Efficiency vital to improve goat milking margins

With UK demand for goat’s milk having grown 25 per cent since 2011, the sector is now gearing up for an increase in production efficiency.


Hannah Noble finds out more...

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Efficiency vital to improve goat milking margins #TeamDairy

The importance of feed to improving profit margins should not be underestimated.


This was the message from Pete Kelly, director of Kelly Farm Consultancy, speaking at the Milking Goat Association national farm open day in Skipton.


“In an industry faced with over-production, it is important goat farmers increase efficiency at all levels,” said Mr Kelly.


“Think about what determines your margin – milk volume, milk income, cull goat income, labour and fixed costs – and work out a way to increase efficiency at each level.”


There are two major approaches to nutrition on milking goat farms, forage-based systems and concentrate-based systems, and it is critical both encourage high intakes of quality feed.


“As a general rule, if you push milk volumes up you will increase margin and therefore increase income. If you can get a further 10kg milk per goat by better management of feeding, this will increase income significantly.


"However, there are times when this may not work. Your milk buyer may not want the extra milk.”


Feed intake is one of the most critical factors. If intakes drop, goats will not milk to their full potential.


Generally goats eat around 3 per cent of their body weight in feed, however some high yielding goats will eat as much as 4 per cent.

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“Make sure ad-lib feed is truly ad lib. If the goats are clearing out the trough, this is not truly ad-lib feeding. There has to be a point where you accept there is some waste,” he said.


Quality is essential on a concentrate-based diet as there is a big range in quality available on the market.


Mr Kelly said: “Goats are susceptible to scouring if the diet is wrong, particularly in the way cereals are presented to the animal. Cracking or grinding cereals too finely can cause a higher rate of digestion and result in scouring and acidosis.”


According to Mr Kelly, the top performing goat farmers are feeding 0.8-1kg concentrate per kilo of milk produced.


“If you are feeding more than 1kg per kilo milk there could be a problem with passengers; you are feeding the wrong goats. They are eating a lot of feed, not producing enough milk and therefore costing you a lot of money.”


Ideally, feed should be about 12.5 per cent metabolisable energy (ME). There is no need for this to be any higher as this could increase the risk of scouring.


“Having 17 per cent protein is good enough as this will be equivalent to about 19 per cent in the dry matter, which is higher than most total mixed rations [TMR].”


Neutral detergent fibre (NDF) controls intakes. For example, if the percentage NDF is lower, the animal will be able to eat a lot more, whereas a higher NDF value can suppress intakes, lowering milk yields. NDF needs to be kept about the 30 per cent mark.


Starch levels should be at a maximum of 15-16 per cent. Higher percentages could lead to scouring, particularly in fresh, first kidders.

“You need to know what is going into the blend and if it is changing on a monthly or weekly basis. If a goat decides it does not like the smell of the particular blend, it can easily not eat for 12 hours, and when it does it will gorge, resulting in a drop in milk and scouring.”


Feeding a 12.5 ME ration the whole way through lactation can result in some goats, which have not milked as hard as others, getting fat. They may have to be stripped back towards the end of lactation and through the dry period, therefore will not be able to be on a truly ad-lib diet until three weeks before kidding.


“You need to have good quality, palatable fibre available in the form of big bale silage or haylage, and they will eat about 0.5kg per day, just enough to stabilise digestion,” said Mr Kelly.


Feed costs are higher in an ad-lib system than in a TMR system and farmers with high levels of concentrates are more exposed to the volatility of the market place.


However machinery costs can be less due to the absence of a mixer wagon and labour costs can also be lower on ad-lib systems as feeding can be every other day, with no land required to run a cereal-based system.

On a forage-based system, concentrate intake needs to be about 0.4-0.5kg/head. This means the quality of silage being fed must be high. Maize silage works well as this is a high concentrate diet. Grass silage quality is often the most variable, so it is vital farmers focus on cutting grass at the right time to ensure quality is high.


“If you have poor quality silage with very high fibre content, adding concentrates to the ration is not the answer; the rumen is already full with fibre which will depress intakes. You cannot make a silk purse out of pig’s ear.


“Feed costs are usually lower, however much more machinery is required to implement a TMR system. Depreciation, repairs, costs of the mixer wagon and tractor alone can run to £11,000/year,” said Mr Kelly.

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