Strong milk price means it pays to feed con­cen­trates

Irish Independent - Farming - - FARM OUR - DAN RYAN

THIS TIME of year is the least labour-in­ten­sive on dairy farms. Get­ting re­lief milk­ers can be a chal­lenge if you are plan­ning a trip to a hurl­ing or foot­ball match in Dublin or tak­ing hol­i­days be­fore the win­ter sets in.

The weather has been favourable for re­seed­ing pas­tures, a job many have put on the long fin­ger over the past two years due to the un­favourable milk price.

There has been a greater em­pha­sis on the in­clu­sion of clover in grass seed mix­tures, which makes sense in terms of ni­tro­gen fix­a­tion and di­etary balance. Cau­tion, how­ever, should be ex­er­cised given the risk of bloat.

In­clement weather has made graz­ing con­di­tions poor on many heav­ier soil types, but soil tem­per­a­tures are still ex­cel­lent for grass growth.

How­ever, farm­ers are gen­er­ally find­ing it dif­fi­cult to main­tain con­sis­tent high qual­ity graz­ing plat­forms ahead of cows.

Judg­ing when pad­docks should be taken out for baled silage re­quires good judge­ment in ad­di­tion to fac­tor­ing in fu­ture weather con­di­tions.

A favourable milk price has meant that farm­ers will ex­tend lac­ta­tions this au­tumn and in­deed milk late calvers through the win­ter months. Tra­di­tion­ally stock bulls would have been re­moved by the end of July. How­ever, stock bulls are still run­ning with the cows on over 60pc of herds I vis­ited in Au­gust.

Our cur­rent records re­veal that empty rates av­er­age 15pc for a 13-week breed­ing pe­riod. Farm­ers con­sider that there is ei­ther a bet­ter eco­nomic op­tion of calv­ing young cows as late calvers next May or sell­ing them as late calvers than fat­ten­ing them.

It is es­sen­tial that you get ac­cu­rate ageing of preg­nan­cies when plan­ning to milk late calvers through the win­ter months.

Up to 10pc of preg­nant cows show false heats and there­fore, you can eas­ily have cows calve with­out the re­quired dry cow tran­si­tion pe­riod.

As­sess body con­di­tion scores of your cows now. Ide­ally get an in­de­pen­dent as­sess­ment. Cows should be in peak BCS at this time of year. How­ever, our farm vis­its re­veal that 70pc of herds have over 50pc of cows be­low tar­get BCS.

With the strong cur­rent and for­ward milk price, it will pay to feed sup­ple­men­tal con­cen­trates to achieve de­sired BCS and to op­ti­mise the op­por­tu­nity to min­imise fu­ture re­place­ment rates.

Fo­cus now on the nu­tri­tional re­quire­ments of your in calf heifers.

As grass qual­ity and quan­tity be­come an is­sue, in­tro­duce sup­ple­men­tal con­cen­trates. Con­sider re­mov­ing the weak­est in-calf heifers and group­ing them with your wean­ling calves. This will re­move com­pe­ti­tion and en­sure they get ac­cess to sup­ple­men­tal heifer grow­ing ra­tion.

As herd size has in­creased dra­mat­i­cally on many farms over the past three years, there has been a sig­nif­i­cant con­straint placed on labour, hous­ing en­vi­ron­ment and milk par­lour rou­tines.

It is es­sen­tial that these is­sues are ad­dressed if we are to cre­ate a “brand” cen­tred around a sus­tain­able food pro­duc­tion sys­tem. The dairy farmer needs to op­ti­mise the op­por­tu­nity to have a healthy herd which ul­ti­mately means re­place­ment rates falling be­low 15pc in a non-ex­pan­sion sce­nario.

There are ex­cel­lent op­por­tu­ni­ties to op­ti­mise prof­itabil­ity within the farm gate.

Many farms can­not af­ford an ex­tra full time labour unit. Shar­ing a labour unit across two or three farms in close prox­im­ity can work suc­cess­fully if strict ground rules are put in place.

Hous­ing con­di­tions also need to be ad­dressed on many farms. Most build­ing con­trac­tors are booked out this au­tumn as farm­ers have the re­quired fund­ing avail­able for hous­ing, adap­ta­tion and ex­pan­sion. It is es­sen­tial to get cu­bi­cle de­sign, air­flow, bed­ding en­vi­ron­ment and feed space cor­rect for the herd.

Euro­pean leg­is­la­tion will in fu­ture dic­tate, for ex­am­ple, 100 cu­bi­cles per 90 cows in the herd and suf­fi­cient feed space for all cows to ac­cess food si­mul­ta­ne­ously. Will it be ac­cept­able to strip graze kale and feed baled silage out­doors to our dry cows over the win­ter months?

Fi­nally, there are great op­por­tu­ni­ties with milk­ing par­lour de­sign and an­cil­lary han­dling fa­cil­i­ties to op­ti­mise the time you spend milk­ing cows and the time spent by cows in the milk­ing par­lour.

New tech­nol­ogy en­ables ex­cel­lent data col­lec­tion from cows, which can be re­layed in mes­sage form to your phone.

How­ever, there will al­ways be a re­quire­ment for stock men to en­sure herd wel­fare is op­ti­mised.

There is an es­sen­tial re­quire­ment for bet­ter cow han­dling fa­cil­i­ties, which en­sure cow flow time and han­dling ar­range­ments cause min­i­mal stress to an­i­mals and op­ti­mise han­dling time.

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