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Dairy: Financial discipline is essential after the massive hit on milk price


Torin McCullogh, Portlaoise looking after the dairy at O'Donnell's, Togher, Portlaoise. Photo: Alf Harvey/

Torin McCullogh, Portlaoise looking after the dairy at O'Donnell's, Togher, Portlaoise. Photo: Alf Harvey/

Torin McCullogh, Portlaoise looking after the dairy at O'Donnell's, Togher, Portlaoise. Photo: Alf Harvey/

The month of October was excellent for dairy farming here in Oranmore. There was good growth and the drier than normal weather gave us super grazing conditions.

This led to excellent grass utilisation and clean out. Farm cover is 810kg drymatter (DM) per hectare with a growth of 30kg matching the demand of 30kgDM/day for the past week. We intend to finish grazing in early December with a farm cover of 550kgDM/ha.

Today the herd is yielding 15 litres at 5.26pc fat and 4.23pc protein, or 1.46kg milk solids per cow per day with an SCC of 170,000 on 2.2kg of concentrate and 2kgDM per day of high quality bale silage which is being fed since October 25.

We started the final rotation on October 3 and 65pc was grazed on October 31 as required by our autumn rotation planner. I am not willing to graze more than 65pc for a few reasons even though the top dairy operators are now suggesting up to 80pc grazed by November 1.

Firstly, calving on this farm does not begin until February 10. Secondly, we do not milk cows indoors in the autumn because there are not enough cubicles.

In order to take advantage of a dry farm we have developed a system that allows us to stretch the last rotation to 60 days and milk off grass until early December by supplementing high quality grass with bale silage and concentrates.

We hold the cows at milking time if ground is wet and also dry off the first calvers, empties and thin cows to reduce the demand for grass to 30kgDM/ha on the milking platform.

Some of the empty cows have been sold in milk and the rest are housed on good bale silage plus 4kg of meal. The plan is to sell all the empties by December 15 to ensure only in-calf cows are housed for the winter.

Thirty of the first calvers are now dry and gone to one of the out farms to get a long dry period. The rest of the heifers will join them over the next two weeks.

This farm has about 2,000kgDM/ha of excellent quality after-grass. Our experience over the last few years has been that the first calvers grow into cows in these few weeks of getting a 'super do'.

This grass would be perfect to zero-graze for the milking cows, but I believe the lost income from milk is more than offset by reduced costs, less work, and well rested heifers.

We weighed all the calves and treated them with pour-on for worms and lice. Some 16pc of the calves were under 200kg in early October, so they were separated and housed on good bale silage plus 2kg of nuts to get them up to target.

Most people recommend leaving the lighter heifers on good grass plus meal, but I find that by housing them on the best silage it is easier to give them meal twice a day in the shed. The on-target heifers remain on the outfarm and are herded every three days to give them a fresh allocation of good grass.

We also weighed all the in-calf heifers and although there was a big range in weights from 440kg for the smaller Jersey crossbreds to 550kg for the stronger Friesians.

We were very happy with their condition score and no extra feeding was deemed necessary.

This highlighted the point to me that averages alone are not enough when weighing the calves and that we need to also be conscious of their breed as a 200kg Jersey crossbred calf could be ahead of target whereas a 220kg Friesian may not be on target.

All of them were treated with pour-on and also got their Salmonella vaccine plus the IBR live vaccine.

The plan is to move the in-calf heifers onto their winter block on November 10. At present this block is growing well and has a cover of about 2,000kgDM/ha and building.

We expect that with the heifers having such good grass in front of them that no meal will be required until January 1 when they come home onto the out-wintering pad and we start to parlour-train them.

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On the financial side of things we need to be extremely disciplined because of the massive reduction in milk price this year. The price reductions have continued as the year progressed and we are now facing a four month period from December to March with very little income.

Tax bills are due now including top ups to the preliminary payments made last year. Bank repayments will also have to be met as well as family living expenses.

This is one of the challenges of spring-based milk production and we are actively clearing outstanding bills so that there are no surprises during the winter period.

I believe that the early months of 2016 will be a lot more difficult to get through than the spring months of the past few years. A budget for next spring regarding fertiliser and feed requirements will be worked on shortly. We will set out to maximise the resources available to us such as silage in the pits and ensure we grow the maximum amount of grass to feed the cows cheaply next spring. We will monitor our cash-flow situation closely and decide if we need to meet with our bank manager.

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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