Is there a role for high input/high output dairy systems in Ireland?
Last week I had the privilege of attending the UCD Lyons research farm with a discussion group from Limerick.
One would have to be impressed by the way the herd is managed and the level of performance being achieved, but is there a role for this system in an Irish dairy context?
The Lyons UCD trial herd was established to investigate the potential of an alternative higher input system of milk production to the grass-based model being advocated by Teagasc. The reasons for establishing the trial include: (i) concerns about increasing dairy numbers and environmental emissions; (ii) facilitating farm expansion post EU-milk quota removal for land limited and fragmented farms; and (iii) lack of available skilled labour on farms to deal with expanding animal numbers.
Both the UCD Lyons system and the Teagasc system have many similarities and the following principles are common to each: high grass utilisation, high EBI herds and compact spring calving systems. The main difference between the two systems is regarding the level of input and output.
Lyons UCD is feeding 1,500kgs of concentrate/cow and selling 600kgs milk solids/cow, whereas the Teagasc model is based on 400kgs concentrate and selling 475kgs milk solids/cow.
There are pros and cons to both systems. The UCD system is likely to give greater returns in a good milk price year, whereas the Teagasc model may prove more profitable on a low milk price year.
The Teagasc model is based on the farmer taking two months off from milking duties in December and January whereas the UCD model is based on every cow milking for 305days, regardless of calving date, which inevitably starting the milking machine every day of the year.
So which system is more profitable? Profit monitor data will generally tend to suggest that both systems can be equally profitable when run at high levels of efficiency.
Anecdotally, at a profit monitor meeting last spring with one of my discussion groups, the two most profitable farmers were the ones with highest level of meal feeding per cow and the man with the lowest level of meal feeding per cow, but both were excellent farmers running their farms at extremely high levels of efficiency.
Should we all be feeding 1,500kgs/cow?
As can be seen from Table 1, nationally we are feeding our cows 1,008kgs per cow, so our cows are already getting a decent amount of feed.
However, we are only getting 372kgs of milk solids of a return from our cows for this level of meal feeding.
Feeding high levels of meal can be economical as long as the cow is giving it back to you in the form of milk.
However, the figures in the table below tend to suggest that on a national level, we are not getting the milk back from the cow to the extent that we should be.
The Teagasc model has often drawn criticism from many quarters mainly due to the low level of meal feeding advocated. However, this model of dairying is a low risk model capable of surviving the ups and downs of milk price.
As the national research and advisory body, it would not be prudent of us to be advising farmers across the country to increase the already high level of meal feeding to push our national milk output per cow to achieve a probable figure of barely in excess of 400kgs milk solids per cow.
The economics of this simply would not stack up.
In light of this, is there a role for the Lyons UCD model in an Irish dairying context? Yes, there is, but only on farms that are run at the very highest level of technical efficiency.
Joe Kelleher is a Teagasc advisor based in Newcastle West, Co Limerick
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