It's time to put our shoulders to the wheel on herd health targets
Last month I accompanied two Limerick-based discussion groups on a trip to Sweden. While we have a huge advantage by having a low-cost grass-based system, we have a long way to go to catch up to our Swedish counterparts in terms of herd health.
Sweden is home to 3,500 dairy herds comprising 320,000 cows, averaging 91 cows per head (almost identical to Ireland in herd size), with an average yield of 8,900kg per cow.
Cows there are housed for most of the year, but all farmers are compelled to allow cows outdoors for two to four months depending on the part of the country they farm in.
The grass growing season only really kicks off in May and the national average grass growth is 7 tonnes/DM/ha, with half of this being grown between May 10 and June 10, making it challenging to manage pre-grazing swards during this period.
Some pioneers are attempting to embrace a grass-based system and cows were still out grazing on one farm we visited. This farm is aiming to achieve over 250 days at grass.
With the long housing period and low winter temperatures of minus 15C to minus 20C, a huge level of investment was evident on all the farms we visited in terms of housing facilities.
Robotic milking systems are increasingly popular and it is estimated that 30pc of Swedish cows are milked this way.
Feeding systems in all the sheds we saw were also automated, with the silage being loaded into a trolley outside the shed, which then transported the feed automatically to the cows within the shed.