At this week’s BGS / BSAS conference in Malvern, Mike Wilkinson from Nottingham University presented a paper titled “Trends and targets for milk from forage”, in which he highlighted how little milk actually comes from forage on many farms.

Data collected from farms costed by Promar farm business consultancy showed that the average milk yield in 2012 was 7,799 litres per cow, made up as shown below:

Milk yield Litres
Milk from forage 2,221
Milk from concentrates 5.578
Total milk yield 7,799

Only 28% of milk came from forage, with 72% produced from concentrates (purchased feeds). In other words, farmers are ‘buying in’ the vast majority of the milk they produce. The proportion of milk form forage has changed little over the last 30 years – in 1982 average milk yields were 5,272 litres per cow with 1,400 litres (26%) coming form forage.

This lack of milk produced from forage on many farms is significant for a number of reasons including:

  • Grazed grass is a very cheap feed when managed well.
  • Purchased feeds are becoming increasingly expensive.
  • Milk from grass has been shown to have a healthier fatty acid profile.

After decades of being sold a high output dairy farming system, heavily reliant on feed, machinery and technology, the tide is beginning to turn. As farmers learn how to look after grass, measure its growth and utilise it to its full potential, we will see the proportion of milk from forage rise on farms over the next few years.

The UK is blessed with great grass growing conditions and it now seems grass is healthy for humans as well as cows. As more evidence for the economic and nutritional value of milk from grass is uncovered, I wonder how long it will be before our milk comes under the microscope (and perhaps the DNA tester). Will the current testing to assess simple fat and protein levels in milk from farms progress towards more in depth analysis of fatty acid profiles for example?

It seems that government and industry are primarily concerned with producing greater volumes of food (despite the huge amounts of food already wasted), but we are beginning to see how this can be detrimental to our diet and to our health. As consumers become increasingly aware that “you are what you eat” and question the ethical and environmental impact of producing milk from soya and cereals, demand for grass-fed milk will undoubtedly grow and we shouldn’t forget that people like to see cows in fields too.

The good news is grass delivers on all fronts:

  • Profit for farmers
  • Freedom for cows
  • Value for consumers

That’s why Free Range Dairy has established these three objectives as its core values.

We have recently witnessed intense scrutiny of meat and meat products. Before long our customers will be looking at our milk much more closely too. Be ready – get grazing and start learning what your grass can deliver.


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