Farm Ireland

Friday 23 February 2018

2015 will be a serious reality check for everyone in dairying

Weanling heifers have got their vaccination shots on Gerard Sherlock's farm. Photo: Getty Images.
Weanling heifers have got their vaccination shots on Gerard Sherlock's farm. Photo: Getty Images.
Gerard Sherlock

Gerard Sherlock

Officially this is the third day of spring but there's not much sign of it yet. The older generation talk of yesterday as "Candlemas Day fair and clear brings two winters in the one year."

How fair was it in your parts? I haven't spotted too many slurry tankers yet. From last Sunday farmers in every county are allowed to spread. Thankfully there is not the same pressure on slurry storage this year. Ground conditions seem a lot firmer this Spring, so hopefully I should get slurry moving in a couple of weeks.

Last week a very unique letter came in the post. It was the last offer of milk quota in the final temporary leasing scheme. It should be framed along with all the other leasing offers and quota purchase bills that we dairy farmers have had to endure over the past 33 years. I was no different to other dairy farmers - buying quota like it was liquid gold. And maybe it was.

Every paper you pick up nowadays has painted a very gloomy outlook of dairying due to the market crash over the past seven months. We have been in very low prices before (2009) and have bounced back.

I heard someone say low oil prices results in low milk prices. It is certainly true. Everybody's hopes were riding so high on quotas going and expansion that nobody thought of milk price volatility. Dairying is not for the fainthearted and 2015 will be a reality check for all of us. I still believe in the Bord Bia dairy assurance scheme (flaws and all). As I said previously, 2014 was the ideal year for farming. The profit monitors should be the best ever. However, I can see that looking at my own figures there was some money made ,but there was a lot of money spent too.

The good year did encourage a lot of investment in reseeding, land drainage, lime and repairs, which should have a payback in the years ahead. My feed costs are still far too high at 49pc of the total variable costs.

Milk production dropped by 6pc or 370l/cow due to a high replacement rate because too many cows were not in-calf. The milk solids per cow were 461kg coming from 3.75pc butterfat and 3.23pc protein. The profit monitor gives so many accurate figures, but if changes are not made on the farm the figures won't change either.

An estimate of the grass utilised on my farm is 6.34t dry matter per hectare compared with 11.7t grown. I must work harder at utilising more grass through measuring grass covers more often and ensuring good quality grass for the cows. This should, in turn, reduce the feed bill. Every hectare of the farm must be utilised properly because if some areas are not producing they are dragging down profitability.

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January was a busy calving month with almost 30 calved. I felt I was using sexed straws but getting all males as it was one male after another - 2:1 in favour of males on the last count.

Thankfully, bull calves are selling well between €90 and €120 a head. One cow so far held her cleaning. I reckon she may have had milk fever but showed no familiar signs. Following this, even though I have already used boluses, I introduced a high spec mineral dust on top of the silage.

One calf was lost at the calving because she was left too long. Generally, cows and heifers are calving quickly and calves are getting up and suckling quickly, while the cows are cleaning out quickly. All calves are stomach tubed two feeds with at least three litres and sometimes four litres, depending on the calf size. Providing plenty of straw bedding, liming calf pens between calves and washing buckets is a must in keeping scours away.

The milking cows are producing 22l/day at 4.08pc butterfed, 3.13pc protein, giving 1.63kg milk solid/cow/day, SCC at 133,000 while TBC is at 9,000. The cows are on silage and straw and 6-8/kg of concentrate.

All the weanling heifers have got their lepto and BVD vaccine shots. The second is due this week. I am watching cows' feet closely for mortellaro as I haven't foot bathed yet. Next Monday sees the arrival of a student from Ballyhaise College which is very welcome help coming at a busy time of the season.

Gerard Sherlock is a dairy farmer from Tydavnet, Co Monaghan.


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