Farm Ireland

Tuesday 23 January 2018

Doing my best to save on energy use


Gerard Sherlock

Gerard Sherlock

The recent change of the clocks showed up the blown bulbs and dirty fluorescent covers around the yard and on the tractor. I've since spent a bit of time checking and replacing bulbs.

Having adequate lighting is necessary but paying for it is another thing. The electricity bill isn't getting any cheaper. I took a good look at my last bill, which covered a two-month period from mid-August. My bill for the farm worked out at €8.80/day. This is an accurate figure as the farm is metered separately. On the amount of milk produced in that period, it equates to 0.013c/l. On the day rate I used 2,138kWh. On the night rate I used 1,094kWh. I can never remember the night rate hours but something tells me they don't suit fully the typical milking times. When I am selecting a milk tank or indeed any electrical item, energy efficiency will be considered.

There is a need on all our farms to do an energy audit on our use and how we can save power. Water usage is another cost on my farm, running at around €2/day. I have made better savings here, with a natural spring and two 4ft liners supplying water to the slatted sheds all winter. It also supplies the washing down of the parlour all year.

In longer dry spells, it can dry up. It is gravity flow so I have no bother with pumps. I was often tempted to add more liners but was advised that I could interfere with the natural spring. The spring has now been used for more than 50 years. One of my new year's resolutions will be to become more efficient with power and water.

The recent heavy rains have left it very challenging for grazing. The cows were housed by night on October 15. They were still out by day on October 31. They were brought in full-time for a few days during the very wet weather but were happy to go out again.

With the weather so mild, grass continues to grow. I will finish up grazing the milking platform by November 12. A total of 80pc of it was grazed by the cows, with the rest of it being grazed by weanlings. Paddocks closed since October 6 are very green but I will resist running over them again. I know I will suffer in the spring.

Over the past few weeks, cows were being grazed for three hours each day, directly after morning milking. This is a task in itself as you do have to be around the farm to get them in. If you missed them for even 15-30 minutes, you could have a black paddock afterwards. I reckon I have grazed 230 days this year since March 1.

All in-calf animals were housed by the end of last month. Weanlings and eight maiden heifers are still out and will stay there for most of this month. The weanlings are getting 2-3kg of a 20pc heifer rearing nut.

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I have fed my 42 round bales plus 33 bales that I bought. I try to hold off opening the pit until the end of October when I know the cows can eat it fairly quickly. I have started into my second cut silage, which should feed well given that it analysed 21pc drymatter, a pH of 4.1, 9.0 ammonia, 11.9pc protein, 10.7 ME, 70 DMD, and 83 FIM intake.

What I am wondering about now is what I should be feeding with it. In previous years, I have fed barley-wheat mixes to help with condition and keep protein levels right. A good quality dry cow mineral is sprinkled along the feed face. This works well if a ration has to be fed to the dry cows. I used a bolus last year for all cows and heifers.

I am not using them this year as I saw no real reward. A bolus only covers about four minerals. You are expected to be feeding a dry cow nut as well to make up for the rest.

Last week cows were producing 14 litres at 4.06pc fat, 3.51pc protein and 1.1kg milk solids/cow/day. Cows are getting 4kg of a 18pc maize and wheat ration. This week, I intend to do all cattle that are in for lice. In other years I would leave it until December but I felt I wasn't getting results.

This year I am going for an earlier kill and using ectospec pour-on. As regards dosing, I will take a few dung samples and get them analysed. Last year I dosed all in-calf heifers and cows up to third lactation with a worm dose and all milking stock got Zanil once. I'll go with the same this year.

At the start of last month, I went to the Ballyhaise open day. The following week, our discussion group visited Johnstown in Co Wexford. It was certainly an eye opener, with many contrasts from the pouring rain in Cavan to the sun in Wexford.

Ballyhaise certainly provided much motivation and confidence to face the challenges of autumn grazing. Everybody could see how more money can be made from a 'more grass, more solids' system. The same story is in Johnstown but with 'more milk' as well. Fertility issues exist on all the farms.

They are being addressed by using the top fertility bulls. Other points raised were using an UFL rating instead of the percentage crude protein when looking at rations. The UFL better describes the quality of ingredients. Meal companies don't tend to use it because we farmers don't ask for it.

Ballyhaise and Johnstown are setting high standards for every type of dairy farmer in Ireland. We are lucky to have them. It's up to us to pick from it and use the research on our own farms. Cows will adapt to change quicker than farmers.

Gerard Sherlock is a dairy farmer from Tydavnet, Co. Monaghan. Email:

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