‘You’ve only one family to feed; how many cows do you need to milk?’

The abolition of milk quotas across Europe in 2015 has opened up the door for many Irish farmers to increase cow numbers.

In many instances, expansion has become the order of the day; farmers are driving on production now that the shackles of quotas have been removed.

However, a leading New Zealand based researcher – Dr. John Roche – has advised farmers to be cautious when it comes to expansion.

Speaking at a recent LIC open day, Roche said that farmers need to have a solid plan in place; they must also stick rigidly to this plan.

I have seen both sides of dairy expansion and learned a lot about the pitfalls and hazards. One of the main things I learned in that process was you need to set a strategic plan and stick to it.

“You need to surround yourself with people who can offer really sound advice and stay away from the naysayers. Small-minded people will always limit your ambitions; you need to surround yourself with people who believe in what you can actually achieve.”

A number of years ago, Roche was in negotiations to establish a 70,000-cow dairy farm in the US. Although this deal didn’t materialise, Roche learned a valuable lesson whilst at home in Ireland.

After discussing the proposed venture back home in Ireland, Roche’s father asked him: ‘You’ve only one family to feed; how many cows do you need to milk.’

“It was probably on of the most salient points that has even been made to me when it comes to setting goals. It’s not the journey that’s important, it’s who you bring with you on that journey.”

At the open day, Roche urged farmers to have a specific endgame in mind.

“If you just plough on expanding, you are going to work harder and harder. You’ll have less time for the things that you are going to realise where the most important things in life when you’re older.”

Feed targets

Although Roche admitted he sounded like a broken record on this topic, he insisted that farmers should aim to limit concentrate supplementation to just 500kg/cow.

The most resilient systems aren’t as exposed to outside influences. 500kg/cow of supplement is a reasonable amount; it’s nearly 3.5kg/day over 150 days.

“However, it’s only 10% of the cows’ diet. If milk price halves, you can take out that 10% and the system won’t fall apart biologically.

“If concentrate price doubles, 10% will not break the farm financially. I think it’s a very healthy level. If you go to 1.5t/cow, supplements now make up 33% of the cows’ diet. And, if milk price halves, you simply can’t take that 33% out of the diet – you simply can’t do it.”