The real nitty gritty details of dairy expansion
Published 02/09/2015 | 02:30
The show of hands told the story.
When Teagasc's dairy specialist Donal Patton asked the 300-strong crowd of farmers attending the farm walk in David Hannon's in Meath last week if they had ever borrowed to invest in soil fertility or roadways, only one hand went up.
Over the last 30 years the rate of expansion on Irish farmers was slower, so most farmers could do it out of cash-flow.
But that's all changed now with herds jumping up by 100 or even 200 cows at a time, particularly in some of the less intensive dairy areas where land banks are still available.
The first cost that farmers think of when expanding is a new parlour, the stock, or sheds.
But Donal Patton's message was not to underestimate the cost of getting new land up to speed - even if it is in good nick. Before any drainage work is considered, you probably won't see much change out of €1,000/ac.
In fact, the hardest thing for farmers is often getting the digger back out once he gets started. That's why it's crucial to have a plan and stick to it. It's not realistic to get everything done the way you want it in the first year. If it's a choice between keeping the digger in for another week to tackle a wet patch in the corner or spend that €5,000 on lime, be wise enough to realise that you will make more money out of liming every acre, rather than fixing the wet 0.5ac.
Setting up your grazing infrastructure has become a bit of an art. Again, Patton had many fascinating insights. He maintains that cows will do half the amount of damage when they are grazing compared to walking. The theory is that cows stand on all four feet when they're grazing, rather than two when they are walking. That's why square paddocks suffer less than long rectangular ones.