Relentless rain has halted our slurry spreading plans

Henry Walsh

Henry Walsh

Most dairy farmers on the western seaboard will look back at 2017 as a good year that finished with a serious sting in its tail.

All was rosy on the farm until mid July with good milk prices matched by excellent grass growth and ideal weather.

Then the rain started to fall and now six months later it is still falling.

Grazing became very challenging on our farm throughout the autumn but for many it became almost impossible without damaging the ground repeatedly.

Ultimately this resulted in failed attempts to harvest silage along with earlier housing leading to increased inputs and costs as well as slurry storage issues. The good milk price has helped to cushion the problem by allowing farmers the freedom to purchase extra concentrates to mask the feed shortage. However for badly affected farmers this will impact significantly on what should have been a very profitable year.

This week our discussion group will meet to analyse our 2017 figures.

Thoor Ballylee Castle, the former home of poet William Butler Yeats Gort, Co. Galway has been flooded again this year. Photo: Hany Marzouk
Thoor Ballylee Castle, the former home of poet William Butler Yeats Gort, Co. Galway has been flooded again this year. Photo: Hany Marzouk

For us, it was an excellent year driven by increased output and high milk prices while the major costs - feed and fertiliser - were reasonable early in the year when we did most of our buying.

A preliminary look at my figures tells me our total cost per litre in 2017 was 25.2c. This figure also includes my labour as well as all land rent and depreciation.

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I estimate when all labour is factored in that we are working at least 27 hours per cow so going by the data presented at the IGA conference in Charleville this is an area we can improve on.

The IGA conference was a superb day with a lot of very interesting technical information presented to us. Pat Clarke delivered a paper on labour efficiencies and practices on Irish farms.

This paper once again highlighted a whole range of practices implemented by the top 5pc most labour efficient farmers resulting in them working 25 hours annually for each cow milked as compared with 47 hours across all dairy farms.

This paper was laden with tips and two that jumped out at me were earlier evening milking with a nine hour milking interval as well OAD feeding of calves over three weeks combined with earlier turnout to grass.

Michael Bateman presented a paper based on the need to deliver a short report containing just five key parameters: gross output, total costs, net profit, cash flow and return on assets.

This template was created by a very experienced group of Teagasc, banking and IGA members due to the raft of different figures that are presented at conferences and different farm walks.

The five-point report in conjunction with Moorepark profit figures would give a very clear simplified picture of the financial performance and be comparable across all farms.

My highlight of the day was David Kerr's absolutely outstanding presentation based on his Nuffield Scholarship in 2007 and the work practices on his own farm.

Labour efficient

David walked us through the workflows on his farm that allow him to milk 160 cows selling 493kg/MS to the co-op while feeding just 550kg of meal. He is stocked at 2.6 and growing 14 tonnes of grass per hectare and calving 90pc of the herd in six weeks.

He uses contractors extensively along with regular relief milkers and has a very low labour requirement of less than 20 hours per cow annually. This is a must read paper on profitable labour efficient farming.

On the home front the relentless rain has halted our slurry spreading plans and all we can do is hope to get urea spread early in February or at the first available opportunity. This year we also intend to spread phosphorous early as soon as ground conditions allow.

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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