Wednesday 28 September 2016

Dairy: The west's awake as discussion group raises bar on dairy expertise

Henry Walsh

Published 27/07/2016 | 02:30

Laurence Lavin tidies up after cutting silage on his farm in Creevagh, Co Sligo. Photo Brian Farrell
Laurence Lavin tidies up after cutting silage on his farm in Creevagh, Co Sligo. Photo Brian Farrell

Thirty degrees Celsius with a light south easterly breeze, sun hats, sun lotion and 99s in Oranmore on July 19 - it was a new experience, a one day heatwave. There is no doubt when the sun shines Ireland is the place to be.

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Water was the top priority on the farm and thankfully the well delivered.

The cows got access to a second paddock offering them two more water tanks - four by 2,000 litres altogether. It spread the herd out a bit, allowed more to drink at the same time and relaxed them.

Current production per cow is 20.9 litres at 4.40pc fat and 3.73pc protein giving 1.75kg/MS/day feeding 1.5kg ration. We cut surplus bales this week and they are probably the last we will cut on the milking platform this year.

The focus now turns to building grass cover as it will not go to seed from now on. Our target is to have 1,250kg/DM/ha - the highest average farm cover (AFC) of the year built up by October 1.

Current demand is 53kg/ha/day with an AFC of 600. To date this year we have spread 186 units of nitrogen per acre.

This is a bit low by average standards for our stocking rate but I prefer to reduce N usage mid summer and then increase again between now and September 14. We will spread 30 units/acre on July 25 and August 15 and 25 units/ac around September 10 to drive a late burst of growth as we are certain to graze it on this dry farm.

We will work towards the well proven Moorepark targets of 200kg/DM/ha on August 1, rising to 400 per cow at the end of September.

To gain 600 AFC over the next 60 days means we must grow 10kg/DM/ha/day over our demand of 53kg/ha/day so we will require an average growth of 63kg/day from now to the end of September.

To achieve this we will apply N as stated above, remove "passengers" - any lame, high SCC or three teaters - and give them a month or two on one of the out farms to warm up a bit for sale.

During the week we had a superb day out when the West Awake Discussion group visited two of our members' farms and the Galway Grazers were all invited to attend.

This group really are raising the bar for themselves with a clear focus on expansion.

Their facilitator is Matt Ryan and he was the catalyst for a very strong discussion.

There was agreement all round that high tonnes of grass grown and utilised per hectare combined with a high six week calving rate (85pc+) were essential to achieve a profit.

The importance of lime, phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) in conjunction with selecting the best grass varieties using the PPI index were emphasised.

The extra milk solids output coming from the clover trials also generated good debate with the conclusion being that if we learn how to grow it and address the reduced spring growth, bloat risk and limit weed control, the financial benefits are well worth pursuing.

We also discussed how to increase income and reduce costs from now to year end.

Increased income included more milk and higher protein from quality grass and reaching the target covers to give milk off grass only well into November.

Dry high SCC cows as they may cause you to lose a bonus. Use short gestation beef AA or HE straws and this will give cashflow a significant boost next April by having high value saleable calves and also removing the costs of rearing late born surplus dairy stock. Sell surplus stock including culls and empty cows early.

Suggestions to reduce costs included apply fertiliser earlier to avail of higher growth rates, use urea instead of CAN and shop around as there are big variations on price. The big one however based on research completed by George Ramsbottom was to feed no meal as the average return for 1kg of meal (25 cent) is only 0.8kg milk (20 cent). Sobering stuff.

In conclusion hit the target cover on October 1, then milk off grass and surplus bales until you reach your closing cover, then dry the herd even if it is only November 15.

Henry and Patricia Walsh farm in Oranmore, Co Galway along with their son Enda and neighbour and outfarm owner John Moran

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