Teagasc’s Dr Joe Patton told delegates attending yesterday’s Liquid Milk Conference in Navan that individual cow yield has no bearing on the profit levels generated on those farms with high numbers of autumn and winter calving animals.

“Our figures confirm this, as does the analysis carried out in the UK, where year-round calving is commonplace,” he added.

“Certainly, there is clear evidence that increasing the total volume of milk produced per farm will help to reduce fixed costs per unit of output. However, the reality is that we have high yielding herds in Ireland that are both profit and loss making operations. And, of course, the same trend can be identified on farms where milk output per cow is significantly lower.”

In contrast, Patton said that milk quality is a key driver for delivering both higher market returns and profit levels: “Where milk protein is concerned, we now know that the 75 per cent of the variability found on farms can be attributed to the genetics of the cows being milked. Farmers using AI sires can easily select for bulls with an improved protein percentage. But I do have concerns regarding the quality of the bulls used on those farms where natural service still predominates.

“Given this background, I would strongly urge farmers with pedigree certificates for the bulls they are using to check the milk protein percentage figure attributed to them. If this is negative, then I would strongly suggest that these animals should be moved on as a matter of priority. The last thing the Irish dairy industry needs is another generation of low protein replacement heifers.”

He continued:“Fertility is another key determinant of liquid milk profitability. Again, this is a trait that is highly heritable. Farmers using AI sires will be fully aware of this. And on those farms where bulls are used to a large extent, every effort should be made to verify the fertility credentials of these sires. If they are not up to scratch, then they should join their colleagues that fail the milk protein test!”

The Teagasc representative went on to point out that feed inputs account for approximately 50 per cent of the costs incurred on liquid milk businesses. Introducing the concept of Feed Conversion Efficiency (FCE) he pointed out that this indicator of performance did have limitations in a dairying context.

“This is because it does not take into account the full implications of forage utilisation, in both a grazing and silage feeding scenario,” he concluded.

“One very positive way by which that dairy farmers can secure a significantly improved FCE figure for their farms as whole is to consistently achieve a 24-month calving date with replacement heifers.”

Milking. Photo O’Gorman Photography