Farm Ireland
Independent.ie

Tuesday 17 July 2018

'Less than 50pc of farmers are milk recording - how can they make strides forward?'

Ireland is falling far short on milk recording figures

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Louise Hogan

Louise Hogan

More farmers are seeking to access pregnancy tests for cows through milk recording, with 30,000 tested this season, according to Munster Cattle Breeding.

Munster AI's Terry Dillon said there has been an increase in uptake on the "simple" test, carried out when milk recording as it requires "no handling".

However, he warned, for a country that is progressing strongly in dairy, we are falling far short on milk recording figures internationally.

"Around 50pc or less farmers are milk recording and if you don't know what your cows are doing and the potential they can get, then how can we make strides forward?" asked Mr Dillon. "It is like buying a car - if you didn't know the mileage, how would you know exactly what you were buying?"

He was talking at a recent open day on the Zurich/Farming Independent Farmer of the Year (Peter and Paula Hynes farm), and said they are using their milk recording data to pick out the best cows to use to breed replacements in their 150 cow herd.

Their Teagasc adviser Grainne Hurley explained how, in five years, the herd have gone from producing 285kg milk solids a hectare to now delivering 400kg-plus this year.

The calves on the Hynes farm are in the top 1pc in the country, with 66pc of the cows milking in their first and second lactations, with the aim to be at 200 cows by next year.

The six week calving rate has risen from 20pc in 2012 to 68pc this year, with the aim of reaching 90pc by 2020. Currently the net profit a hectare is at €720, with the farm aiming for €1,335/ha by 2020 through an increase in cow numbers, along with factors such as improving grass utilised and milk solids per cow.

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"Peter is able to select cows he wants to breed, and get his replacements from, to really drive on," said Mr Dillon. "It is also allowing him to use selective dry cow therapy for the first time and reduce his antibiotic use by getting his cell count really good."

Don Crowley from Teagasc Clonakilty was equally vocal on the financial and improvement gains to be made in herds from milk recording.

He pointed out the Danone infant formula plant was purchasing a significant amount of its milk from the Dairygold Co-op which meant the standards for somatic cell count (SCC) were set very high.

Mr Crowley pointed out an analysis of the costs of high SCCs from Teagasc and Animal Health Ireland found culling, a reduction in production and the loss of bonus are the biggest costs.

"The biggest gain is when you go from 250,000 to 150,000. You see about €80 per cow in a 100 cow herd that is about €8,000.

"Maybe €10,000 or €12,000 can be picked up in going from 350,000 to 150,000. That really stanto you in a difficult year like the one that we had last year," he said, with the SCC in the herd currently at 101,000. "This year has been an excellent year and hopefully it'll continue.

"Where we are seeing it is in the output per cow in a low cell count herd. About 75pc of the milk coming into Dairygold is qualifying under 200,000," he said.

Mr Crowley said many of their farmer clients were staying at the 200,000-300,000 mark. "It really pays from a business point of view to make the extra push to come to 150,000," he said.

Some of the points the Hynes farm has been targeting included udder cleanliness and teat disinfection. "Clipping the tails is a huge issue at farm level - we are not seeing enough of that. It has a huge impact on udder cleanliness," he said. Mr Crowley also pointed out correct use of antibiotics when drying off to kill infection in the teats was crucial.

"We are seeing too many herds that are on the same antibiotic for a long number of years and resistance is coming in to that. They were going well and when resistance develops, they can deteriorate in SCC very quickly," he said, urging farmers to talk to their vet about it. He urged those approaching selective dry cow therapy by using sealers without antibiotics on cows with counts under 100,000 to be extremely careful in terms of hygiene.

"You can do more harm than good in that scenario but it is probably coming down the tracks," he said.

On the Hynes farm, a Dairymaster backflush system is used where a flush of peracetic acid goes through after the cow comes off to combat infection spreading. "A staph aureus cow will spread it to the next eight cows so a cluster-flush system will help mitigate against that, as will drafting them until last," he said.


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