Farm Ireland
Independent.ie

Monday 19 November 2018

Despite milking over 500 cows this German dairy farm is not making a profit

Catherine Hurley

Catherine Hurley

Nicole Winkelmann is the finance director of a 500-cow farmers’ co-op farm near the German/Polish border. She is one of 37 local co-op members who own and farm the 2,300ha farm, which has a 500-cow unit and the remainder in tillage.

Despite its size, on its own the dairy unit is just covering costs for the farming group.

Current milk production price Germany is hovering around 32c/L for commercial farms in Germany. However, the cost of production is 32c/L on this co-op run farm, but it does include all labour.

“Our costs of production and our farm gate price are the same, we’re getting 32c/L,” explained Nicole.

Although the farm devotes 2300ha for tillage, the focal point for the farm is milk production, where 525 Holstein Friesian herd produce over 5m litres of milk annually, supplied to the local dairy processor.

Some 700ha of the tillage ground is producing fodder for the dairy herd. The main diet of the cows being silage, maize and Lucerne, some of 30-35pc of the diet is meal.

All cattle are fed through a diet feeder, from a conveyor belt system. There are seven conveyor belts to feed the cattle, which are indoors all year round.

There are 11 people working full-time on the dairy farm full-time, which has 950 cattle – including the dairy herd, the remainder being calves or replacement heifers. Males are sold for veal at 14 days of age.

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Cows are calving down all year round and 100pc AI is used on the farm. The average production life per cow is 3.6 lactations. Cows are culled if they don’t come back in calf in time or if they get too big for the cubicles that are there. The replacement rate is 35pc every year.

Morning and evening milking starts at 6am and 6pm and last six hours each. The milking parlour, which was installed in 1995, has two pits, both pits are herringbone eight-unit double-up parlours, four rows of eight, with two people milking.

On average, cows are milking 10,500L a year at 3.95pc butterfat and 3.49pc protein. The Holstein herd produces over 5,000,000L each year, supplied to the local milk processor.

The co-operative manager explained that she does not want to be solely dependent on the local milk processor and has started producing ice-cream on site and supplying local shops. So far, they devote 200L a month for it. Saying it is hard to turn a profit while being competitive on price.

The farm also has a vending machine for milk on-site, which holds 150L a day and anything leftover is fed back to the calves.

While farms have consolidated, with a four-fold drop in holdings, and a consequent increase in scale over the last 45 years, Germany remains the biggest milk producer in the EU with €11bn in annual dairy sales, accounting for 20.5pc of all milk produced in the EU.

Average herd size is increasing every year in Germany. The Federal Statistical Office (Destatis) statistics state that the number of agricultural holdings declined by approximately 3pc, about 9,000 holdings, between 2013 and 2016.

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