FEED is the biggest expense for UK dairy farms - but research suggests up to 45 per cent of its potential is lost between the field and cow.

Ian Leach, Alltech retail programmes manager, said this equates to a feed waste value of almost £1 for every £3 spent.

The preliminary results from a pilot study of 34 farms by Alltech and industry experts assessed different points where feed wastage occurs, including in the field, during storage, at feeding out and inside the cow and found scope for huge improvement.

The results showed the average loss of dry matter (DM) in silage clamps was around 25 per cent Mr Leach said: "On most farms, it was identified that the greatest losses were in the most nutritive part of the silage resulting in the undigestible proportion increasing. Not only does this cause a reduction in dry matter intake (DMI), it has potential to lead to health issues, such as SARA, as the balance of the ration can be disrupted.”

At feeding out, the issue was physical ration presentation and feed barrier space.

“There was evidence of sorting and ‘balled’ silage on 19 of the 34 test farms," said Mr Leach. "In addition 23 of the 34 farms failed to meet the target feed barrier space of 65cm per cow, all of which can impact on feed conversion efficiency (FCE).

“FCE across the pilot study farms averaged 1.2 and we know incremental improvements in this key parameter can significantly reduce feed wastage.”

He said cow health is a key area where efficiencies can have a big impact on feed wastage and the bottom line.

"For a unit with average incidence rates of mastitis, lameness, metritis and milk fever, the total financial impact of losses equates to around £39,995 (3ppl),” said Mr Leach. “Calving intervals of 419 days and service conceptions of 2.6 could also be costing units around £47,161 (3ppl).”

In addition to health and fertility issues, drops in rumen efficiency can also add up.

The study found a consistent presence of fibre in the dung and some grains demonstrating inefficient rumen function. Mr Leach said research shows that a feed conversion efficiency (FCE) of 1.2 could comfortably move to 1.3 with specific nutritional strategies which could have a minimum impact value of 1.4ppl.

“While the Alltech pilot study cannot attribute specific losses against environmental parameters, Cow Signals indicates that insufficient feed barrier space, water trough space, or lighting, will have a direct influence on lying time and reduce FCE.”