Opinion: 'We need trained stockmen to handle dairy expansion'
Dairy herd size in grass-based milk production systems has increased significantly in the past five years.
This expansion has brought with it many unforeseen challenges.
Tax incentive to encourage long term leases have had a significant impact on the opportunity to increase dairy herd size. Frequently, this has meant the installation of underpasses through public roads. These cost approximately €45,000.
Walking distance for cows has increased and the risk of lameness has increased with distance walked. This also becomes an animal welfare issue.
One client with a 400 cow dairy herd noted that milk production stopped by 2.5 litres per day when cows had to walk two kilometres to the furthest paddock on the grazing platform. The cumulative stress reduces reproductive performance. The intensity and duration of heats decrease, later embryonic mortality increases.
An alternative to increasing walking distance has been the uptake of zero grazing.
This requires additional costs in machinery and time on a daily basis to harvest grass. A number of contractors now provide this service. However, zero grazing will increase the risk of stomach fluke infestation and neospora relative to cows grazing the same grass.
The availability of skilled labour is now the primary constraint on optimal management of dairy herds. The stockmanship skills required cannot be taught over a short time period. It is difficult to attract people into the industry.