Dairy Open Day planned for Teagasc Ballyhaise
The Teagasc dairy research undertaken at Ballyhaise College provides dairy farmers in the region with locally generated research information and system development technology to help secure their dairy farming livelihoods.
Irish dairy farming is entering a period of considerable opportunity as EU milk quota abolition in 2015 will allow dairy farming businesses to expand for the first time in 25 years. The export-oriented dairy sector has the potential to contribute significantly to Irish economic recovery in the coming years based on an internationally competitive production system and strong world demand for high-quality Irish dairy products.
Teagasc researcher Brendan Horan said: “As part of the anticipated overall expansion in milk production in Ireland post 2015, it is essential that dairy farm businesses are profitable and provide a good lifestyle for dairy farmers. Dairy farm expansion increases farm profits in the longer term, but places additional short-term financial pressures on the existing farm business. Irish dairy farms must therefore develop simple, robust, grass-based production systems to facilitate profitable expansion.”
The Teagasc Ballyhaise college dairy project commenced in 2005 to investigate the profit potential of dairy production systems within the Border, Midland and Western (BMW) region. At the outset of the project, the main issues identified as hampering the profitability of dairy farms in the region were; the lower growth and use of grazed grass on wetter soils; farm fragmentation; and poor herd fertility.
Research carried out at the college has shown that the two most critical factors to increase farm profit have been to improve the EBI of the herd and high-quality pasture management.
Teagasc e-Profit monitor data collected from farms in the BMW region show that average farm output in the region is 900kg of milk solids (MS; fat plus protein) per hectare, with a concentrate input of 890kg per cow. In contrast, MS production per hectare at Ballyhaise has increased from 950kg in 2005, to 1,250kg in 2012. This is due to improved grazing management and a more fertile and compact calving dairy herd.
The fertility performance of the herd has improved steadily over time. Today, the college boasts one of the top 50 dairy herds in Ireland with an overall herd EBI of €175. The overall herd empty rate has decreased from 36 per cent in 2005 to 7 per cent in 2012, while the critical six week calving rate has increased from 56 per cent to 83 per cent during the same period.
In addition to producing additional higher value milk from grazed grass, in each of the past two seasons, the college has also sold surplus dairy stock and are now reaping the numerous financial benefits from a healthier more robust high EBI grass-based dairy herd.
Grass production increased steadily from 12 tonnes of Dry Matter per hectare in 2008, to 15.2 tonnes in 2011. More recently, poor weather during 2012 and to-date during 2013 has provided a stark reminder of the high-production costs associated with poor grass growth. Grass growth reduced to 11 tonnes DM per hectare in 2012, while growth is 10 per cent behind normal during the first half of 2013. Concentrate feed inputs consequently increased by 36 per cent in 2012 to 850 kg per cow, and based on higher concentrate prices, resulted in total concentrate feed costs of €240/cow compared to €130/cow in 2011.
Notwithstanding these short-term weather-related problems, the higher overall farm system profits demonstrated at Ballyhaise arising from increased milk fat and protein sales, improved herd fertility and increased grazed grass use demonstrates the potential for long-term profitable milk production in the BMW region.
This model remains the only viable low-risk expansion model available to Irish family run dairy farms into the future.
Teagasc head of animal and grassland, research and innovation, Dr Pat Dillon said: “Irish dairy farmers are well-respected internationally for their low-cost efficient milk production systems and ability to rapidly adopt new technologies to sustain that competitive advantage.
“Any expansion in the dairy farm business should only be undertaken if it increases profitability and provides a better lifestyle to the farm family. In this environment, only those dairy farmers who fully capitalise on the inherent competitive advantages associated with low-cost grass-based seasonal milk production systems will be successful.”
Dr Dillon stressed that “the primary purpose of this event will be to encourage farmers to put more emphasis on feed budgeting to extend the grazing season this autumn to allow additional high-value autumn milk to be produced from grazed grass”.
Teagasc: ‘Irish dairy farms must develop simple, robust, grass-based production systems to facilitate profitable expansion.’