Five take-home messages from Moorepark ’17

Crowds flocked to Fermoy, Co. Cork for the Moorepark ’17 open day earlier this week. It’s estimated that 15,000 people attended the event.

Based on the theme of resilient technologies, dairy farmers were presented with the latest research findings from Ireland’s principle dairy research centre.

Here, AgriLand compiles five of the take-home messages farmers should have picked up to help them shape their businesses in the coming years.

1. Set up your farm for grazing

Teagasc’s Dr. Michael O’Donovan emphasised the importance of setting up your farm for grazing and not for cutting silage.

“There’s no point in growing grass and sticking it in the silage pit; that’s not where the money is made,” he said.

grazing
Teagasc’s Michael O’Donovan speaking at Moorepark ’17

2. Farmers who measure grow more grass

O’Donovan also touched on the importance of grass measuring. He said: “Those measuring grass are growing 4.5t/ha/year more than those not measuring.

Every paddock is different. If you’re not measuring, how do you control variability?

3. How many hours do you work?

Teagasc’s Dr. Padraig French touched on the importance of managing workload. He said: “It’s not sustainable to work 55 hours/cow/year.”

According to a Teagasc study, the most efficient dairy farmers only work 18 hours/cow/year.

It’s not a sprint; it’s a marathon.

In order to improve efficiency at farm level, French focused on a number of key areas.

“Cow infrastructure is important. Cow roadways, proper layout of paddocks and water troughs dictate how good cow infrastructure is.

“Having enough units in the milking parlour ensures milking is carried out in a timely manner,” he said.

“Planning can also lead to efficiency. It is important to plan out your spring workload and how you will get it done.

“50% of your yearly work will be done in the first three months of the year,” French added.

4. The breed debate

Dr. Donagh Berry’s station – ‘The Perfect Cow’ – was at the centre of much debate amongst the farmers who attended the biannual event.

The Teagasc geneticist touched on the benefits of crossbreeding. He said: “It’s possible to stock a herd of crossbred cows at a higher level than Holstein Friesians.”

As well as the additional profit of €100-150/cow/lactation, he said, crossbred cows are suited best to the Irish system.

It’s a type of cow that is ideally suited to seasonal, pasture-based dairying.

Benefits include:

  • High yields of milk fat and protein;
  • A moderate-sized cow;
  • Excellent fertility;
  • High intake capacity relative to their moderate size;
  • High productivity per unit area.

Another important topic touched on was the Economic Breeding Index (EBI).

Anatomy

Berry said higher EBI animals were more profitable than than their lower EBI counterparts.

The EBI was introduced in 2001 and focused on: milk yield; milk fat; milk protein; calving interval; and survival. It places a monetary value on each of these traits. To date, there are 18 sub-index traits in total.

5. Dairy farmers can overcome Brexit challenges

Prof. Gerry Boyle, the Director of Teagasc, spoke at the forum which concluded proceedings at Moorepark.

Boyle said: “The challenge [of Brexit] is really all about how we are going to take costs out of our dairy production systems.”

Boyle said that the most important resource available to Irish dairy farmers is the grass they are utilising to feed their cows.

“We are utilising grass far better than we were a few years ago. But still, the average level of utilisation is 7.5t/ha and it’s not enough to help us withstand the challenge of Brexit.

“We think there’s a potential for utilising at least 10t/ha on research farms and, indeed, on many of your farms, it’s substantially higher than that.

That’s world beating and, what I’m really saying, the challenge of Brexit is of being more competitive and putting into place those potential improvements on your farm.

“You might say to me ‘why should we do that?’. But I think if there was ever a motivation and an urgency for putting in place cost-reduction measures, it’s Brexit.”

It’s through grassland management, he said, along with improving the genetics of our dairy herd that Irish farmers can take on the challenge of Brexit.

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