Compact calving stresses will only increase until farmers get to grips with issues
At a recent a discussion group meeting the issue arose of compact calving and the impact it might be having on dairy farmers.
The general consensus of the group was that compact calving will have a negative impact on farmers unless they look closely at three areas in particular; hiring of labour, calving/calf facilities and preparation.
In 2010 the average herd size in Ireland was 53 cows. In 2016 that figure had increased to 85 cows, and in 2017 the average herd size will probably be around 90 cows.
This means that on average every farmer in Ireland is calving down 37 more cows now than they were seven years ago.
All of this combined has led to a significant increase in spring workload.
Coupled with this, the fertility of the national herd has also been increasing steadily.
In 2010, the average cow in Ireland had a calf every 402days. In 2016 that figure was down to 389days, all of which has led to a significant increase in the number of cows calving down in the first six-weeks of the calving season. On average 58pc of our herds nationally calve in six weeks.
If we combine this with the national herd size of 90 cows then this would suggest that 52 cows (and heifers) are calving in the first 42 days of the calving season, which should be manageable for most.
However, the top 10pc of farmers are calving 82pc of their herd in the same period which amounts to 74 cows calving in the same period, which could put pressure on the system if facilities and labour aren't addressed correctly.
Where the system can really come under pressure is in herds larger than the national average and who are achieving a high six-week calving rate.
If you were milking 60 cows eight years ago and now you are milking 120 cows and you are still trying to manage everything yourself, then you are going to feel the pressure.
Extra labour needs to be brought in. We are constantly hearing in the national media that rural Ireland has not felt the benefits of the economic recovery yet, so there must be people out there who would be anxious for some extra income for evening/weekend/night time work.
But you will never know unless you ask them. One farmer at the discussion group said that every farmer needs to find the money to pay for labour in the spring.
Cow numbers have increased by 40 or 50 cows on many herds in the past few years and yet the number of calving pens have not increased in line.
The general recommendation is that one calving pen is required for every 15 cows in the herd. This means a 90-cow herd would require six calving pens. Very few farmyards currently meet this requirement.
Extra cows also mean extra calves. Putting small numbers of calves into old houses can seriously eat up time. Take a look at your current facilities and put a plan in place for next spring.
This was the key area the discussion group focused on. One farmer detailed how he had to move a load of turf from the calving pen, the day the first cow calved.
Another farmer only got the feeders in the parlour working when he had 40 cows calved. He had being drawing in meal with buckets until then.
These jobs all need to be carried well in advance of the calving season.
Sheds should be power-washed out the summer before.
All items that need to be purchased should be bought in January.
One farmer detailed how he buys all his medical requirements, detergents, cubicle lime and even a spare set of ropes for the calving jack in January.
This way he stays off the road as much as possible in the month of February.
Will compact calving cause stress for farmers? Absolutely, unless we address the points outlined above.
Joe Kelleher is s Teagasc advisor based in Newcastlewest, Co Limerick
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