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Tuesday 11 December 2018

Dairy farming systems must build in resilience to weather shocks - Teagasc

Completing a winter feed budget and reviewing in early January should be standard practice on dairy farms
Completing a winter feed budget and reviewing in early January should be standard practice on dairy farms
Catherine Hurley

Catherine Hurley

Dairy farmers are being warned by Teagasc that the weather is a reality of farming and they must build in resilience to weather shocks.

Speaking at the Teagasc National Dairy Conference in Cork, Dr Joe Patton said that dairy farming systems must build in resilience to weather shocks.

"The multiple weather events of 2018 stretched farm resources – cash, labour, forage and facilities. Underinvestment in labour and facilities, or the lack of a cash reserve, can leave the system exposed to shock or unexpected events.

"The impact of extreme weather events can be reduced by having a reserve of quality fodder on the farm to compensate for weather-induced reductions in pasture growth."

Teagasc, he said, recommends that a reserve of 500 - 800kg DM per cow be built up over time and maintained on a rolling basis.

He said a key lesson from spring 2018 is that relatively small proportional initial shortages can turn into a complete lack of feed for a period by the end of winter (for example running a 10pc feed budget deficit may equate to two weeks full feeding).

"This can be avoided by better planning. Completing a winter feed budget and reviewing in early January should be standard practice on dairy farms."

Despite the numerous weather challenges posed in 2018, he said the prevailing grass based system demonstrated good resilience as evidenced by the overall milk production figures for 2018.

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"At the end of September, the volume of milk supplied for processing was slightly ahead of 2017 albeit with reduced cumulative protein and butterfat content.

"Nonetheless, this resilience of production came at a much increased feed cost; and at significantly greater time input from individual farmers, their families and staff. Detailed discussions with numerous dairy discussion groups have highlighted a real need for more and better planning around the key areas of labour, forage feed security, and facilities. These were common themes across region and scale of operation."

He said that dairy farmers need to be in a position to make tactical changes more quickly in order to respond to adverse weather events or other shocks to the system.

"There are no ‘off-the-shelf’ options that will work for every farm so it essential to fully consider potential for lessening the risk against investment costs or possible reductions in short-term profitability.

"Auditing what went wrong in 2018 and listing possible future solutions are the important first steps. Imagination and flexibility of thought will always yield better outcomes than reactionary capital spending."

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