Optimising stocking rate was a key point highlighted at the Irish Grassland Association (IGA) conference held this week.

The IGA held its dairy summer tour and conference this week in Co. Tipperary with a large crowd in attendance at both events.

At the conference, the topic of optimising stocking rate on dairy farms was discussed. It was noted that by optimising stocking rate on farms, you can maximise profitability, improve cow health and performance and have a better work life balance.

Vincent Griffith from IGA; Bobby Hovenden; Dr. Mary Kingston; and Brendan Horan from Teagasc


The conference heard from Dr. Mary Kingston, who is an independent dairy discussion group facilitator, working mainly across Munster and Connacht.

She spoke about how many farmers aim for 500kg of milk solids as they believe it will make them more profitable. But Dr. Kingston explained that the weight of milk solids/cow has less of an impact on profitability than stocking rate.

Having a farm that is optimally stocked will increase profitability as less imported feed is needed.

Dr. Kingston noted that the top 10% of farmers she deals with have a higher level of milk solids output/ha by optimising their stocking rate.

These farms also have a range of milk solids/cow from 350kg to over 500kg.

Optimising stocking rate

The crowd in attendance at the conference heard from Bobby Hovenden a dairy farmer from Durrow in Co. Laois.

Bobby farms 88ha of dry free-draining soil, with 53ha used for the milking platform.

Bobby recently reduced his stocking rate to 2LU/ha in a effort to reduce the requirement for purchased feed and feeding of silage during the grazing season.

He had increased cow numbers to 160 in recent years but would always suffer during the summer months with drought. He told the crowd that his meant he was always going in with silage during the summer to fill feed gaps.

This, along with wanting to farm more sustainably, led Bobby to reduce cow numbers back to 115 cows for 2022.

He told the crowd how he has not fed any silage this summer to cows and has only fed 550kg of concentrates/cow this year. In previous years, Bobby would have fed 1.2t of concentrates/cow.

Bobby believes that he has optimised the stocking rate for his farm; he told the crowd how he has more time for himself and is once again enjoying farming.

He noted how he has reduced fertiliser usage down to 150kg and that clover has come into the sward that he had not oversown or reseeded recently.

Bobby believes that it is naturally coming back into the sward due to the reduced nitrogen being spread on the land.

Key points

Stocking rate helps to drive farm profitability rather than achieving 500kg of milk solids/cow.

By Bobby finding the optimum stocking rate for his farm, he has increased his milk solids output/cow and reduced concentrate feeding.

He also has not had to feed silage during the summer months, has more time off and is once again enjoying farming.