The importance of “scientifically-tested component practices” for developing a successful dairy system was highlighted at the 2019 Teagasc Winter Milk Event in Johnstown Castle in Co. Wexford.

The event took place yesterday, Wednesday, September 4, with farmers and industry stakeholders in attendance to review the performance of the herd at the Teagasc research centre and to discuss this with Teagasc researchers.

“There are significant challenges to the future viability of winter milk production, both within and beyond the farm gate. Since the abolition of EU milk quotas many producers have been re-assessing the optimal production system for their farm,” said Tom O’Dwyer, head of Teagasc dairy knowledge transfer.

Potential changes to international market conditions and securing quality labour are also major issues. However, Teagasc benchmarking data shows that the more technically proficient winter milk producers continue to operate profitable and sustainable farms.

O’Dwyer commented after the event yesterday: “The aim of our research and extension effort is to promote greater uptake of key technologies among winter milk producers. Events like today remain central to that objective.”

According to Joe Patton, a Teagasc winter milk specialist, the main priority area in the sector is to reduce calving intervals and expand control over calving patterns.

“While many issues are common to all dairy farms, the requirement for a proportion of autumn calving does create specific management challenges with regard to herd fertility,” said Patton.

Calving pattern should be an outcome of defined planning and not a consequence of poor herd fertility.

From a stakeholder point of view, it was highlighted that the research carried out on winter milk has “lifted yields, improved forage utilisation and delivered real gains in fertility”.

“The recently completed experiment has clearly demonstrated the effects of specialist winter milk production on milk production profiles and input costs,” said Donal Murphy, chairperson of the Teagasc winter milk stakeholder group.

Some of the other topics to be covered yesterday included nutrition, breeding, forage and soil nutrient management.

Grass budgeting was also highlighted, with Aiden Lawless, manager of the Johnstown project herd, saying that “controlling peak covers to under 950kg/ha in late September, and moving to graze in early February, are important features of our system”.

Teagasc advisor Richard O’ Brien was on hand to present the data from the herd, and noted the genetic improvements from the Economic Breeding Index (EBI).

Yesterday’s event also saw discussions on transition herd health and fertility, and a demonstration of a new multi-species grazing swards experiment.