Farm Ireland

Tuesday 17 October 2017

Dairy farmers advised to cut deep to cope in 2016

A general view of the large crowd that attended the Irish Grassland Association Beef Summer tour on the farms of James & Mary Grace, Mooncoin and Tom & Bridget Murphy, Portlaw. Photo: Donal O' Leary
A general view of the large crowd that attended the Irish Grassland Association Beef Summer tour on the farms of James & Mary Grace, Mooncoin and Tom & Bridget Murphy, Portlaw. Photo: Donal O' Leary
Darragh McCullough

Darragh McCullough

Reducing teat dipping, antibiotic use, and hot washes are just some of the drastic measures being suggested to farmers ahead of another year of low milk prices.

Cutting costs to cope with falling incomes is one of the big topics for discussion at the Irish Grassland Association's (IGA) dairy conference in Limerick this week.

While spring calving farmers escaped the worst of the price falls last year because their peak had passed when prices really started to plummet, the opposite appears to be the case in 2016.

Grasstec's Noel Gowan will outline a series of measures to cut costs by at least 15pc this year, with increased grass measurement and management key.

Despite the well publicised benefits of maximising grass utilisation, it is estimated that less than 1,000 farmers measure their grass on a weekly basis.

"This will also help reduce machinery or contractor bills because it should reduce the need for pre- mowing and topping," says Mr Gowan.

The dairy advisor will also highlight a number of ways that farmers can save when shelling out on routine inputs.

For example, he points to electricity, minerals and dairy chemicals as areas where a large price variation warrants shopping around.

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He recommends joining a buying group, along with switching to straights instead of formulated rations.

"This will knock another €35-40/t off costs, and feeding this supplement at lower levels so that it supplements rather than displaces grass intake will help minimise spend", says Mr Gowan.

He also questions if farmers should still be using fertility drugs as herd fertility improves, the merits of teat dip when cows are at grass full-time, and using both antibiotics and a teat-seal at drying off.

"Use once-off late lactation milk recording to establish SCC levels in each cow and make your decision for each cow based on this," he says.

He also advises farmers with closed herds to consider reducing their vaccination programme.

He also believes that there is room for cost cutting in relation to the AI straws that are chosen, and switching to generic products rather than using big veterinary brands.

Lime application

On fertiliser, he advises farmers to use urea instead of CAN, and use nitrogen top-dressing strategically rather than at blanket rates.

He also suggests postponing lime applications unless levels are too low, and laying off on maintenance jobs either in the yard or out in the field (reseeding, hedge-cutting or weed spraying) until prices improve.

Farmers should also negotiate switching from per acre rates with their contractor, especially if their facilities have improved.

Mr Gowan also noted the scope for savings by shopping around on electricity providers, as well as trying to use more night-rate electricity that was half the price of day-time units.

He believes that if milk quality is sufficient that reducing the number of hot washes is also possible.

Other suggestions include reducing stock numbers, sharing staff with other farms, selling off machinery, postponing non-essential maintenance jobs, and taking more routine jobs such as fencing, hoof-care, and AI back in-house.

For more information, see

IGA conference will focus on how to survive with low milk prices

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