There are still good opportunities in milk production in the UK despite predictions of declining markets, an EEC milk surplus and health scares. The time has come, however, to recognise that the cost of production is of paramount importance and that improving milk yields per cow alone is not always the best way forward.
Although increasing use of fertilisers has allowed our grasslands to contribute to our greatly improved self-sufficiency in all ruminant products, the role that fertilisers are playing in milk production per cow may be slowly declining. This can be reversed by examining the pathway by which fertiliser applied to grassland results in profitable milk output.
The response of grass to fertiliser nitrogen is briefly reviewed. Experimental evidence conclusively demonstrates that the average dairy farmer could apply at least double his present level of fertiliser nitrogen and continue to obtain an economic dry matter yield response. Although the management of grass utilisation is technically quite difficult, provision of adequate allowances at a reasonable quality, whether of fresh grass or silage, should be a primary step since they are relatively low cost feeds.
Increasing the contribution of forage in the diet of the dairy cow not only has a beneficial effect on gross margins, but more importantly on the profitability of the enterprise.