Teagasc research has shown that every tonne of grass utilised increases net profit by €161/ha.

Maintaining a low-cost base is our best defence against the coming milk price volatility.

Key to that is grass dry matter (DM) production and utilisation on farms. But nationally the level of grass production is unacceptably low, many dairy farms in Ireland are growing less than half of their capacity.

Greater focus on grass production and grazing management is needed on farms.

Results from Pasturebase Ireland show that grass DM production on farms that are regularly measuring grass (more than 35 farm measurements per year) was 12.2t DM/ha in 2013.

Of the total, 10.2t was allocated to the grazing herd and 6.2 grazings were achieved on the grazing platforms.

In 2014, these farms grew 13.9t DM/ha with 11.4t DM/ha allocated to the grazing herd. Close to seven grazings were achieved on the grazing platform.

This level of grazing can be increased even further. On some farms, on average 12 grazings are being achieved from all paddocks. Other farms struggle to achieve six.

This difference has a direct impact on the level of grass utilised across farms and on farm profitability.

The grass utilisation target must be 80%. Therefore, increasing the level of utilisation achieved on farms is really important.

It is worth noting that the highest grass producing farms in the Pasturebase Ireland have a consistent grass growth of between 15.5t DM/ha and 16.5t DM/ha annually.

Improving grass production and utilisation rests on a number of key principles:
  • Increased focus on grazing management and regular measurement.
  • Applying new grazing technologies (making key decisions with the measurements).
  • Management of soil fertility.
  • Identifying poorly performing paddocks and reseeding them.
  • Benchmarking the performance of more efficient farms.

By Michael O’Donovan, Teagasc Animal & Grassland, Research and Innovation Programme. This article first appeared in the Teagasc publication Today’s Farm.