Meeting KPIs: How it’s done at the ‘Future Herd’

Farmers at the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE) Dairy Open Days were told how benchmarking key performance indicators (KPIs) could boost their bottom line.

Hitting targets such as higher milk yield, better milk quality, shorter calving indexes, and lower replacement rates all play a part in management at the college’s ‘Future Herd’.

Staff had managed to achieve a profit of £965/cow/year – almost £200 more than the Northern Ireland bench-marking average of £794 per cow per year.

The herd also managed higher than average protein and butterfat composition: 3.3% and 4.16%, compared to the Northern Ireland average of 3.23% and 4.01% respectively.

Measuring success

Martin Reel, business technologist at Greenmount, said: “The figures I’m comparing with the Northern Ireland BDG average are from the last financial year – March 2017.

“Then the herd had around 155 cows; but, now we’d be sitting at around 200 – so the herd has been expanding.

“At that stage, the average yield – the number of litres sold down the lane – was over 8,800L/cow compared to the benchmark average of 7,733L/cow. That yield was achieved by feeding 2.4t of meal.

When you compare that to the benchmark average, it’s below the average amount of meal fed; but, we’re getting more than 1,000L of milk per cow sold than the Northern Ireland average.

“This being a college herd, it’s impossible to get down to the bottom line of net profit per cow – so the main physical targets we have are: milk solids; lifetime yield; milk from forage; and margin over concentrate.”


The biggest goal staff and students are currently working towards is to achieve a lifetime yield of 40,000L/cow.

The cows have already made good progress, with the latest figures showing lifetime yield of 39,300L.

Lifetime yield at the herd is calculated based on the cows culled over the last three years and how much they produced.

The goal for milk solids is to increase from 661kg/cow/year to 700kg/cow/year.

CAFRE cows

However, increasing milk from forage has the furthest to go – with a goal set at 4,000L from forage a year – up from 2,712L in December 2016.

The target for margin has already been met – to be in the top 25%; achievable with a margin of more than £917/cow.

Reel said: “The target for milk from forage is 4,000L and even since the benchmarking that has slipped – we’re down around 900L/cow.

“So that’s a combination of the poor weather in the autumn; the cows were in poorer condition and were not out for as long, so there’s been more meal fed in the herd.

Margin over concentrate

“Margin over concentrate is a monthly, more up-to-date way of recording where you are.

“We calculate by taking your milk sales less your meal bill; so on the average benchmarked farm around, 40% of your total costs go on the meal bill. So for every £10 you get, £4 of that goes on your meal bill,” he said.

In December, the Future Herd had a margin over concentrate of £7.44/cow/day based on an average daily yield of 30.5L and average concentrate feed of 10.3kg/cow/day.

Reel added: “It’s a good indicator of farm profit; if your feed efficiency is good, generally your farm profit is good.

“Another benefit is that your margin over concentrate is calculated monthly, so what you’re looking at is up-to-date information and you can see a trend quickly and act on it.”