Dan Ryan: 'Why we need a radical and new approach to winter milk'
The hum of milking parlours will gradually cease for the next six to eight weeks on over 80pc of dairy farms in the south of the country.
This is due to the increasing decline in winter milk production which is primarily seen as a high cost system with low returns.
There has been an ongoing exodus from winter milk production over the past 20 years due to factors both within and outside the farm gate. Within the farm gate, skilled labour is a scarce resource. Farmers psychologically want a break from the demands of milking cows 24/7. Shorter days create an innate need to take a break and recharge the batteries.
Winter milk production today is a specialist task. Housing facilities for dry cow, milking cows, calves and maiden heifers have to be of sufficient standard not only for cost-efficient milk production, but also to meet modern animal welfare requirements.
The preparation and feeding of winter milk diets is more costly than those centred around grass-based systems. There is a greater investment required in machinery and labour for feeding regimes for the various groups of stock in winter milk.
Beyond the farm gate, there are the demands of milk processors and supermarkets. Milk processors want specialist winter milk producers where the pool of milk supplied has minimal dilution with milk from late lactation or carry over cows from grass-based spring milk production.
There is a focus on specialist dairy units with large milk pools, thus reducing the transport costs of collecting milk from many 'non-specialist' winter milk producers.
Milk processors have also the opportunity of purchasing milk from the North where there is an inherent winter milk production strategy driven on the back of shorter grass growing seasons, limited grazing platforms and reduced labour requirements due to the installation of robotic milking systems.