Farm Ireland

Tuesday 20 February 2018

Last year's turbulence has highlighted the importance of sustainable farming systems

It is important to have a sustainable farming system in place that is capable of withstanding the low milk price years
It is important to have a sustainable farming system in place that is capable of withstanding the low milk price years
Henry Walsh

Henry Walsh

It's been the best winter ever weather-wise for us here in the west. So good, I almost want it to continue.

But here we are in early February 2017 and the cycle has begun again. Already, most of the slurry has been spread.

This year, as usual, we covered the 15pc of the milking platform with the lowest covers of grass. On one of the out farms that has slurry storage, we used the umbilical splash plate to put out 3,000 gallons to the acre.

The umbilical requires a more dilute slurry so it needed a good few tanks of water and more agitating.

The output was high once they were spreading and we availed of the opportunity to transport some slurry from home to the tank they were spreading from, as all this farm was grazed from mid-November till now and had grass covers ranging from 200kg/ha to zero.

The other 85pc of the milking platform got 25 units per acre of urea on January 20 and we will blanket spread again with 35 units the first week of March.

Farm cover was low 750kg/dm/ha at the end of January. This is a result of the low closing cover on December 1 of 450kg/dm/ha and indicates a good growth rate over the winter of 5kg/day for 60 days.

It is low for us in particular, with the demand we will have this spring, with compact calving and a target stocking rate of 3.6 cows/ha. We intend to go to grass as normal full time with the cows as they calve from February 8.

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We will use the Spring Rotation Planner and I find it is always a struggle to graze the required 30pc by March 1, so we will graze the lighter paddocks and feed 3kg of concentrate.

High-quality silage bales will be introduced in March to fill any feed deficits and ensure we stick to the Spring Rotation Plan. The priority is to make the first rotation last until April 4.

Over the last two weeks, we have analysed our 2016 Profit Monitor and attended a CellCheck workshop. We also attended a number of refresher walks on calf-rearing and spring grass.

The level of expertise at all of these events was very impressive, from our Teagasc advisors, who assist us in analysing our profit monitors, to the researchers that identify best practice for grass production or calf rearing, the vets and finally the host farmers.

Dairying in Ireland is now an industry with a clear blueprint in place to allow us to reach our Food Harvest 2020 targets. It is built on a low-cost grass and spring-calving milk production system.

Our discussion group met on January 31 to analyse our 2016 profit monitor. This meeting highlighted a lot of interesting points and set the base for our farming in 2017.

Our average milk price in 2016 was 31c, down from 34.5c in 2015. Milk output per cow was 5,240 litres at 4.73 fat and 3.73 protein. This gave us 445 kg/ms/cow and we were stocked at 3.5 cows/ha giving us 1,550kg/ms/ha.

This is a level of output I would not have thought possible five years ago when I had a goal to produce 1,350kg/ms/ha. For our farm I now believe 1,700 kg/ms/ha is a realistic target.


This is based on improving the genetics of the cows, achieving a better six-week in-calf rate, resulting in more days in milk with a more mature herd and stocked slightly higher at 3.6 cows/ha.

I believe we can grow and consume more grass by continuing to focus on the fertility status of the soil and in particular on lime over the next year, as well as the P and K.

We used the profit monitors completed nationally by January 31 to compare against. These were broken down into 'average' and 'top 10pc'.

The most striking thing about the top 10pc was that they had the same cost base per litre as the average, but they then produced more litres per cow at higher constituents, giving them 10pc more solids per cow.

They stocked the milking platform higher, at 3.43 cows per hectare versus 2.67, and this delivered a massive 38pc more milk solids per milking platform hectare.

The top 10pc delivered a very impressive 3.5c/l more profit but incredibly they delivered almost twice (88pc) the profit on every milking platform hectare.

Last year has reinforced to me how important it is that we have a sustainable farming system in place that is capable of withstanding the low milk price years.

It is only by completing and comparing the profit monitor that we can measure our performance to see how we are performing against our peers.

Henry and Patricia Walsh farm in Oranmore, Co Galway, along with their son, Enda, and neighbour and out-farm owner John Moran

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