Sunday 25 September 2016

'Every cent counts at the moment'

Published 08/06/2016 | 02:30

Adequate cubicle space is a problem on many farms that have expanded.
Adequate cubicle space is a problem on many farms that have expanded.

Milk quality is a bigger issue than ever during a price trough like the current one plaguing the dairy industry.

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"Every cent counts at the moment, and when quality bonuses and penalties can be worth up to 4c/l, farmers are on to me straight away if there's a problem," said Teagasc's milk quality expert, Don Crowley.

Ironically, the tactics employed by farmers to deal with the price drop often seriously compromise their milk quality.

"The three problems that I've encountered most over the last six months are over-stocked cubicles, farmers cutting milk recording to save money, and high cell count cows being kept on in the herd," said Mr Crowley.

"It all goes back to the drive to produce extra milk on farms since the axing of quotas. Facilities have not expanded at the same rate as herd size so there's plenty of herds out there with cubicles to do only 80pc of their herd.

"Part of this expansion challenge is the workload. But farmers need to really think about what jobs should be prioritised, such as milking and a good milking routine because that's what actually pays the bills around the farm."

Farmers have been tempted to cut milk recording in the drive to reduce costs.

"But it also means that it takes a lot longer to identify a problem cow and, in turn, cure her when it strikes if recording data is not available.

"The other thing that happens in a tough milk price year is that farmers are reluctant to cull cows because they are trying to maximise milk output. A herd that would normally be averaging an SCC of 100,000 only needs 2-3 cows with cell counts in the millions to push the overall level into the penalty territory," he said.

The somatic cell count thresholds have been continuously lowered by dairy processors over the last number of years, with many imposing price penalties at levels above 300,000.

"It makes no sense to keep the high cell count cows in the herd because you're jeopardising the entire tank for the sake of a few extra litres of milk," he concluded.

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