Stocking rate being key to economic and environmental performance on dairy farms, was one of the take aways from day two of the National Dairy Conference.

Wednesday, November 24, marked the second and final day of the Teagasc National Dairy Conference, which this year was held virtually.

Day two of the conference started with a presentation from Dr. Joe Patton, the recently appointed head of Teagasc Dairy Knowledge Transfer (KT) Department.

Joe spoke about economic and environmental performance on Irish dairy farms and explored the key drivers of their success.

Grass utilised

A key focus of the Moorepark open day was ‘grass utilised’ and Joe’s presentation also centred on this.

Grass utilised is key to driving margin on Irish dairy farms. Grass utilised is often misunderstood and it is not as simple as grazing tight paddock by paddock.

Grass utilisation incorporates:

  • Grass grown;
  • How well you graze that grass;
  • Stocking rate;
  • Milk soilds/cow;
  • Maintenance feed cost/cow;
  • Feed supplement bought in.

Stocking rate

During his presentation, Joe explained how there is an optimum stocking rate for both the financial performance and environmental performance of the farm, and that there is an alignment between the two.

“The issue with stocking rate – it is quite simple to define based on the number of cows/ha.

“This is because we can measure the cows/ha easily. But really it is grass growth and feed utilisation that will determine stocking rate on the farm.

“If we have a situation where a farm is over stocked or even marginally over stocked, we may be relying too much on purchased feed, such as concentrates, which may have a lot of carbon miles before it arrives on farms.

“We may also be under pressure for slurry storage and cow performance can slip if they are under fed.

“If we can get the sweet spot between being able to maximise our days at grass and minimise our supplementation – which will mean we are growing more of our feed on the farm, which will also gives quite an environmentally-friendly system.

“This is why we are seeing more of an alignment with stocking rate compared to L/cow or even milk solids/cow.”

Joe explained that L/cow and milk solids/cow had very little alignment with margin/ha, where the grass utilised figure did impact on margin/ha.

At the Moorepark open day Joe said: “In terms of predictability of a farm’s profitability, grass utilised accounts for between 50-60%.

“This trend is not limited to dry land; it works across all land types and regions.”

Commenting on stocking rate at the National Dairy Conference, he added: “Your farm’s optimum stocking rate will be determined by the amount of grass it can grow, which will be different for every farm.

“There is a point when stocking rate hits a wall and actually starts to impact farm profitability in a negative way – which is a key point farmers should be aware of.”