Farm Ireland

Wednesday 17 January 2018

Experiment triumph for NZ grazing systems

Darragh McCullough

Darragh McCullough

Intensive grazing systems using smaller crossbred cattle are trumping traditional approaches in experiments at Teagasc's Ballyhaise college.

At an open day held there last Thursday, more than 500 farmers were shown how cows fed the minimum levels of concentrates were leaving an extra €330/ha in profit over more typical systems where cows were fed 1.2t of meal a year.

While the benefits of New Zealand style grazing systems have gained widespread acceptance in the southern half of the country, dairy farmers have been much more reluctant to adopt the higher-intensity grazing regimes in the Border counties. Later spring growth and heavier soil types coupled with a strong tradition of winter milk production had convinced farmers in these regions that the New Zealand system was less relevant to their operations.

However, the results of the on-going experiment at Ballyhaise, where cows stocked at over three cows per hectare and fed just over 0.6t of concentrate supplement per year are compared to a more typical system, demonstrate not only that the New Zealand style systems work, but that they also are more profitable on a per litre and per hectare basis.

While grass growth records over the last five years show that Ballyhaise produced almost 1t less grass dry-matter per hectare than Moorepark, Teagasc researchers are convinced that highly profitable, low-cost dairying is still possible in the region.


Due to higher daily rates of grass growth during the mid season, Ballyhaise can support higher stocking rates than Moorepark. In addition, the heavier soil types are less prone to mid-season moisture deficits.

Teagasc dairy specialist Brendan Horan implored farmers to "change their mindset and revisit the very essence of their business. While milk production per cow is reduced in these New Zealand style systems, milk production per hectare will tend to be maximised at higher stocking rates as increased animal demand drives more efficient grazing practices and improved sward utilisation".

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The Ballyhaise herd produced nearly 1,200kg milk solids per hectare and a 280 day grazing season in 2010.

"We estimate that the optimum stocking rate is just under three cows per hectare, compared to the national average of less than two cows per hectare," said Mr Horan. "The gap between what has been achieved here at Ballyhaise and the national average of 670kg of milk solids per hectare with concentrate supplementation of 0.7t/cow shows that there is a lot of room for improvement."

Mr Horan also believes that the type of cow farmers need to strive for also needs to change.

"The selection of lighter crossbred cows has helped Ballyhaise improve its profits. Smaller cows have lower daily energy demands which can be satisfied from grazing. However, they also have a higher intake capacity, which is why studies have found that can increase farm profitability by 30pc a year," he said.

However, the researchers have modified the optimum calving date for the Border region to March 5 to take account for the slower start in grass growth when compared to the southern half of the country (see the table, left).


There has also been a huge effort put in to improving the reproductive performance of the 140 strong dairy herd at Ballyhaise. The 24 day submission rate improved from under 60pc to 95pc in the last six years. Over the same period, the six week pregnancy rate has been increased from under 40pc to nearly 60pc. The herd EBI has increased fourfold since 2005 to E125 in this year.

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