Irish dairy farmers must strive to improve grassland output and utilisation in 2016, according to Livestock Improvement Corporation (LIC) advisor Linda O’Neill.

Speaking at a farmers’ meeting in Co Tyrone earlier this week, she encouraged producers to adopt the Keep it Simple Stupid (KISS) principle.

“I am fully aware that milk prices will be under pressure over the coming months,” she said.

“Farmers cannot control what takes place on international dairy markets. But they do have total control over what happens within their farm gates.

“We already know that our best dairy farmers can produce milk for as low 19c/L with the average production price currently in the region of 22c/L to 24c/L.

Grazed grass is the cheapest feed source on Irish dairy farms.

“Production costs on a dry matter basis are in the region of 8c/kg.

“This compares very favourably with the 25c/kg cost associated with imported concentrate feeds.”

O’Neill indicated that zero grazing had little or no role to play within Irish dairy production systems.

“The year ahead is not one in which farmers should consider investing in additional machinery,” she said.

And this includes zero grazers.”

Where breeding is concerned O’Neill said that fertility improvement is the one strategic development that can make a real difference on Irish dairy farms.

“Enhancing six-week conception rates will allow farmers to calve more cows in the early spring months.

“This, in turn, will provide stock with the opportunity to make better use of early grass. They will also graze longer into the back end.”

O’Neill confirmed that recent changes to the quarantine regulations in New Zealand will ensure that Irish milk producers get almost immediate access to the best Kiwi genetics during the period ahead.

“New Zealand bulls are all daughter proven. This is a wholly accurate reflection of a sire’s genetic merit.

“Genomics will help identify groups of young sires. But the technique is not that efficient in identifying individual bulls with genuine breeding value.

“For this reason, it is important to use a selection of genomic sires as part of a herd breeding programme.

Looking ahead, the LIC representative said that New Zealand will be putting greater emphasis on the body conditions score of breeding bulls on test from the end of February onwards.

“This will provide a much clearer focus on sires’ fertility values.”