Grazing delays costing €1,000 per week for average 100-cow herd
10 days of good weather needed before many farmers can get cows out
Delays in getting cows out on grass is costing dairy farmers dearly in terms of extra feeding and general herd management.
Teagasc puts the benefit of early grazing at €2.70/cow/day on the average dairy farm.
This means that a 100-cow dairy unit with 50 cows calved so far is facing additional costs of around €135/day or almost €1,000 per week where cows are still housed.
And with the number of calved cows increasing by the day, dairy advisors cautioned that the challenges and costs facing milk suppliers are mounting.
Teagasc dairy specialist George Ramsbottom said that the increased feed bills were only one element of the additional costs farmers were now facing.
He said reduced milk yield, lower milk protein levels, and the impact of late turnout on grass management and utilisation through the year would all hit farmer margins.
In addition, Mr Ramsbottom said there was the potential for increased incidence of conditions such as mastitis.
Aidan Doyle of Summerhill Veterinary in Nenagh said there was no indication to date of a serious mastitis problem on dairy farms but he cautioned that it was an increasing danger as the number of calved cows which remained housed grew.
The most seriously affected farms are in the western half of the country. While three or four days could turn things for those with dry land, farmers on heavier soils will need up to two weeks of good weather.
Teagasc's Joe Kelleher said there was increased pressure on dairy farms in many parts of Limerick, north Cork, Kerry and Clare.
While the build-up of slurry is a serious worry for all farmers at the moment, those with heavy land face the greatest challenge.
Although Met Éireann has forecast a dry and cold week, Mr Kelleher said 10 days of good weather is needed before many farmers in west Munster will be able to get cows out and slurry spread.
"The next fortnight will tell a tale. We need two weeks of fine weather.
"If lads have cows still in towards the end of March, then we'll be in trouble," he said.
"Some farmers are already buying silage. The problem is that if the weather stays broken, the lads selling could get nervous," Mr Kelleher explained.
The situation is even more serious for farmers in the north-west.
Teagasc's Tom Coll said much of the land in Sligo and Leitrim needed at least five days drying before farmers could consider trying to spread slurry or fertiliser.
Grass growth is also back this year, with Mr Kelleher putting covers at 100kg/ha behind target.
Ironically, the best covers are reported on heavier land which farmers did not graze as late last October and November, again due to weather.
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