Autumn grass surge delivered exceptional milk protein results


Henry Walsh

Henry Walsh

What a pleasure it has been farming for the last month.

Ground conditions were superb with grass growth more or less matching demand combined with the support of some concentrates and a small amount of bale silage.

While the late autumn growth spurt is now running out of energy, the exceptional growth that we hoped for after the drought materialised and has delivered extra grass in a year it is so desperately required. Dry ground

A real bonus this autumn has come in the form of extra grass utilised as a result of the dry ground which is much more favourable than the disastrous situation we had this time last year.

I have noticed that over the last two months the cows are repairing and levelling the ground damaged in the wet backend of 2017.

Clean out has been excellent which will aid tillering of the grass sward and ensure no destructive residuals are left over the winter. While the high growth rates fuelled by late fertiliser were lower in dry matter, for the most part there was no negative outcome because there was less rain on the leaf and most farmers had fed a bit more grain to protect scarce silage reserves.

In fact I see some exceptional milk test results coming back from the co-op.

While we are going to produce milk with a lower overall protein percentage than normal for 2018, the current figures are exceptional for us.

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For the first time we have broken through the 10pc milk solids, while still milking twice a day.

Current figures averaged over the last three collections are hitting 5.75pc fat and 4.51pc protein.

We are stocked at 3.3 cows/ha as the empty cows are housed full time and being milked OAD to help increase flesh.

The entire herd are producing 13.5 litres on 3.5kg of ration and 3kg silage giving us 1.42kg of milk solids daily. SCC is around 170 and lactose is coming in at 4.60, which is dropping as we enter late lactation but still fine.

We started closing a week later than normal due to the permitted late N and exceptional growth.

While this looks to have been a good decision, growth rates have dropped off sharply in the last week due to some very cold days and sharp overnight frosts.

We will need to be vigilant and close the farm with the correct cover which will be pretty much the same as the last number of years.

My son Enda condition-scored the cows in early October and was happy enough to put 20 on OAD but to leave every cow milking.

This week, however, we will be more proactive and take most of the February calving first calvers and as usual put them to one of the out farms to rest and grow into mature cows.

Grass covers are lighter than normal on the out farms because of cutting the second cut late.

This will have a knock-on effect on the length of time we will be able to keep the winter grazing in the diet this year and it will be supported with silage in the fields.

We housed the few lighter calves and they are now on good silage plus 2.5kg of meal.

We left all the stronger calves out and they have thrived better over the last three weeks on 1kg of meal daily as they were on excellent aftergrass and benefited from the good weather.

There is enough grass for them till December 1.

US market

Meanwhile, a very worrying development for all Irish dairy farmers is the move by Glanbia to target markets held by Ornua in the US.

While some of the facts are not yet confirmed, it is clear a serious battle has erupted between the parties and it has been suggested that this has already had an adverse impact on retail prices.

The marketing 'gurus' responsible for this confrontation maintain Glanbia is selling a different product into a niche market, but in reality this ploy is targeting and displacing Irish product.

Ultimately, the discounts retailers secure as a result of this battle will convert a premium product into a commodity and erode processors' margins.

Lower returns quickly land at milk suppliers' doors in the form of reduced prices.

This smacks of the sort of behaviour that 15 years ago resulted in the liquid milk market in this country only being profitable for the retailer.

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

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