10 things you need to know before becoming a dairy farmer, as asked by new entrants

Supplementary concentrate feeding in the parlour (3) (Small)

Teagasc has compiled a list of the most frequently asked questions by new entrants to dairying. Here’s a selection of some of the questions asked:

Q What will it cost me to get up and running?
If you were starting from a Greenfield site it could cost over €4,000-5,000 per cow to set up a dairy enterprise. This cost will be reduced where existing stock is available to sell, slurry storage is already in place, reseeding has been carried out, second hand equipment is purchased etc. No two farms will have the same set up costs. Individual farmers have spent between €2,200 and €5,000 per cow place.
Q What are milk solids?
Milk solids refer to the amount of protein and fat in a quantity of milk. Take a cow that produces 5,000 litres of milk in a season. If the milk contains 4.1% fat and 3.4% protein, then the milk has 7.5% milk solids. The total amount of fat produced is 5,000 x 1.03 x 0.041 which equals 211kg. Total protein produced is 175kg. Therefore this cow will produce a total of 386kg of milk solids in the season.
Q What is the payment system for milk?
Most co-ops pay on an A + B – C payment system. A is kg of protein, B is kg of fat and C is a reduction for each litre of milk supplied (volume charge). Protein is most valuable, currently about €7/kg, fat is about €3/kg and there is a charge for the volume (between 3 to 5 cent per litre) as this has to be evaporated off which is a major energy cost to the co-op.
Q What is the profitability of the top performing dairy herds?
Top performing dairy herds are exceeding €1,000 profit per cow. At stocking rates of 2.5 cows per ha these farms are generating over €2,500 profit per hectare.
Q What size milking parlour should I build?
For moderate sized herds the recommendation is to have 6-7 rows of cows. This will allow the herd to be milked in about one hour. Eg 70 cows – 10 unit parlour, 100 cows – 14/16 unit parlour.
Q How much could a milking parlour cost?
The basic machine will cost about €2,000 per milking unit; including all of the extras will push the cost per unit up to €8,000. In addition the cost for the building, dairy, collecting yard with tank is about €4,000 per unit. Second hand machines can be good value, but take into account the cost of installing them.
Q What type of cow should I buy?
The most profitable cow will calve in spring, go back in calf (365 day calving Interval) easily, milk for 280 days plus and produce high milk solids from grass.
Q What size paddocks?
In spring and autumn cows are usually allocated grass on a 12-hour basis. During the summer months most farmers are allowing three grazings per paddock. A cow will eat about 17kg grass dry matter so the allowance per paddock for three grazings should be 26kg per cow. If the ideal pre grazing cover is 1,400 then paddock size can be calculated 100 cows x 26kg per cow = 2,600kg required 2,600 required divided by 1,400 ideal cover = 1.85 ha paddocks (4.6 acres).
Q How much silage does a cow need over winter?
A cow will need 10kg silage dry matter per day, which is equivalent to about 50kg fresh weight
3 month winter – 0.9t DM (4.5t fresh wt)
4 month winter – 1.2t DM (6t)
5 month winter – 1.5t DM (7.5t)
Q How much does a milking cow eat?
A milking cow will eat about 17kg dry matter per day.

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