Farm Ireland

Monday 19 February 2018

Infertility costs you €575 per hectare

John Donworth

At the Ballydague open day last week, Laurence Shaloo dealt with two technologies that would increase farm profit per hectare on dairy farms.

One of these technologies dealt with grass utilisation and the other dealt with achieving certain reproductive management performance targets.

As regards grass utilisation, Laurence said that for each extra tonne of grass dry matter used, profit per hectare increases by €100.

Nationally, we are using about 7.5t of grass dry matter. If we increased this to 8.5t, we would increase profit on each extra hectare by €100.

This is really a stocking rate issue. We have dairy farmers who are using between 10t and 12t of grass dry matter.

However, if you are at a stocking rate of approximately 1.9 livestock units/ha on the milking block, then the chances are you are only using 7.5t of grass, no matter how efficient you are.

But back to the fertility issue that Laurence was talking about. He specifically mentioned three areas where improvements needed to be made.

For instance, what's the mean calving date for your herd? That's the day when half the herd is calved. Nationally, only half the herd is calved by St Patrick's Day. That's not a great figure to write home about.

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Is there money to be gained by moving this date back into February? You bet there is.

For instance, if half the cows calved 20 days earlier, by February 25 or 26, then that would add €200/ha extra profit to our farms. Why?

Well, the big plus, of course, is that we have more cows calved in February, they have longer lactations and produce more milk from grazed grass.

What's the mean calving date for your herd? You will find the date on your Herd Plus calving report, but you don't need a Herd Plus report to find out.

It's just a matter of looking at the breeding chart and counting up the births until you reach the magic day that half the births are recorded.

On farms where reproductive efficiency is excellent, this date will be reached about 20 days after the first cow calves. In New Zealand this figure occurs at about day 15.

I would imagine a large number of you reached the stage of half the cows calved at about day 28 after the first cow calved.

The second area that Laurence mentioned was the age structure of the herd. Age structure is governed by replacement rate. The higher the replacement rate, the lower the performance of the herd.

As you know, first lactation animals only produce 75pc of the yield of mature cows; second lactation animals produce 95pc of the yield of mature cows.

High replacement rates, from 25pc, have been a feature of our dairy herds for the past 10 years. If a high replacement rate is due to herd expansion then that's a positive outcome.

But in the past 10 years high replacement rates have been due to empty cows. This results in less saleable animals as well as a reduction in herd performance.

Once herd expansion is out of the way, the ideal replacement rate is about 18pc. At this replace-ment rate, one is maximising genetic gain in the dairy herd.

In his talk at Ballydague, Laurence Shaloo said that the financial gain from having a correct age structure in the herd was €100/ha.

The last area where Laurence said that real progress is needed is in the empty rate of the dairy herd.

If you can improve the empty rate by 10 percentage points then you will improve profit per hectare by €275.

This is a very big improvement in profit per hectare, purely by reducing the number of cows that are empty at the end of the breeding season.

Ideally, only between 5pc to 10pc of cows should be empty at the end of a 13-week breeding season. This gives plenty of scope for culling for other reasons -- SCC, poor performance and temperament.

It is easy to see why high empty rates lead to less profit on farms: more replacements are needed, they need more ground, they don't perform as well as cows and there are less replacements for sale. It's a vicious cycle.

So, there you have it.

The total cost of having poor reproductive performance in your dairy herd is €575/ha or €23,000 for a 40ha milking block.

Is this acceptable and can we do anything about it in the upcoming breeding season?

Irish Independent