Ireland’s most efficient dairy farmers spend the least time with their cows

Major differences exist in the labour requirements among Irish dairy farmers according to Teagasc Dairy Specialist Pat Clarke.

He said the most efficient dairy farmers spend up to 15 hours less working with their cows (per cow) then the average farmer, according to Teagasc Dairy Specialist Pat Clarke.

Speaking at the Teagasc/Lakeland Dairies joint Dairy Farm Structures For Expansion open day in Co. Meath recently, he highlighted the main differences between the most efficient and average herds.

According to Teagasc’s Dairy Specialist Pat Clarke, there is a large variation in the working hours/cow of the most efficient (top 5%) and average dairy farmers.

The average dairy farmer will spend approximately 30 hours per livestock unit (LU) over the course of a year. This labour will come from the farmer, family and in some cases employees. However, this figure drops dramatically for the most efficient farmers who spend 15h/LU.

Clarke also presented figures which indicated that there are major differences in the numbers of cows the average farmer can handle (60LU) while the more efficient operators can handle up to 120LU.

How can some farmers handle more cows with less time?

According to Clarke, there are numerous factors which impact on the efficiency at which dairy farmers operate.

He added that the most efficient dairy farmers are more organised and have an earlier finish to the day.

“The top group are spending less hours per LU but are also handling more cows. This group is also finishing their working day one hour earlier.

“One of the key things we see with the labour efficient group is that there is an earlier start to the milking,” he said.

However, Clarke added that there is a common misconception that reducing the milking interval will reduce milk yield, but the Teagasc specialist added that this is untrue.

 There is absolutely no loss of milk yield, there is no difference in yield between a 12 hour and eight-hour milking interval.

Along with reducing the length of the working day, many of the more efficient operators have also adapted on farm techniques to reduce their work load.

The majority of the top 5% of dairy farmers feed calves once a day, have a shorter breeding season and employ contractors to carry out more tasks.

Clarke also added that the more efficient herds tended to be larger in scale, so they had more cows to calve in the spring.

“There was much greater emphasis put on the whole calving process, with two elements in particular which were facilities and the breeding of the cows.”

The more efficient herds tended to have better facilities to calve a larger number of cows in short period of time.

There was also more attention payed to cow body condition, mineral status and the choice of bull from an ease of calving point of view.

These factors will contribute to less assistance at calving time and more natural calving as herd size increases, he said.

The herds with 15h/LU unit also tended to have shorter breeding and calving seasons, he said, with the most efficient herds having a 2.5 week shorter calving period.

These herds also tended to have shorter winters and focused more on getting the cows out of the shed in spring time and increasing the number of days these animals spent on grass, he said.

Main Points
  • Earlier finish to the working day (+1 hour)
  • Earlier start for evening milking (+1 hour)
  • Once a day feeding of calves
  • Reduced calving assistance and shorter calving interval
  • Increased use of contractors
  • More days at grass 

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