Investment in herd health plan works out at €15/hd

Irish Grassland Association tour of the Hylands' dairy farm at Ballacolla, Co Laois
Irish Grassland Association tour of the Hylands' dairy farm at Ballacolla, Co Laois
Darragh McCullough

Darragh McCullough

The Hylands take a precautionary approach to managing disease on their farm, but pay handsomely for doing so, with David Hyland estimating that their vaccination spend is close to €15 per head a year.

"We vaccinate for IBR, which is costing about €2, Leptospirosis at €1 per head and Salmonella at close to €5 a head. The BVD sampling through the notches is probably another €2 each, and that's before factoring in labour," he says.

"We've a really good vet in Fintan Graham who had us culling out BVD positive calves 10 years ago before we even knew what BVD was.

"He never rammed the notion of vaccinating down our necks, and often joked that there is an endless amount of stuff that you can be vaccinating for.

"But he got us to put in place a herd health plan so that he is nearly more of a consultant to us now than anything," says David.

"The most recent thing that we added to the vaccination list is IBR in the last year or so.

"I reckon that it was in the system here for a while but then we noticed a bit more coughing in than usual and swab tests confirmed that it was IBR," says David.

"We don't really know what percentage of the herd was 
affected but we decided to start vaccinating for it anyway, as an insurance policy if nothing else. I don't think we could afford not to do it," he added.

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'Quota system had ceased to work for us'

Does Paul Hyland think that expectations are too high for the dairy sector at the moment?

"I think there is a real excitement out there, which is a good thing to a point. And we shouldn't be afraid because Ireland can produce more milk, and the extra bit we produce isn't going to affect the world market.

"The quota system had ceased to work to for us. Even when output was capped we saw that price could crash, like in 2009, and it's dropping again now. We definitely won't be getting 40c/l next spring.

"Maybe the expectations are a little too high. One thing that people don't realise is the impact of rising costs. Thirty cents is the new 22c (per litre of milk). So there's no pot of gold, even if it is perceived as being better than anything else out there.

"But debt levels that are too high will be more of a risk than low milk prices to new entrants and farmers that are expanding. A lack of capital in the early days can sink a fellow.

"So my advice is, always not to put yourself under terrible pressure by opting for a shorter pay-back period on loans. Don't be afraid to borrow long-term for 'good debt' - productive assets like laneways, fencing, cows. Avoid 'bad debt' (unnecessary spending) such as an extra tractor and ACRs.

"The other thing to remember is that this isn't a race. There's lads there pucking the gate talking about what they're going to do in 2015, but what's wrong with doing it in 2016 or 2017?

"And remember that 100 calved heifers never end up being 100 calved cows - there will always be some fall-out and these are things you have to factor in when you are expanding."

Is winter milk worth it?

Just under 30pc of the Hyland's milk quota is contracted for winter milk. Does this fly in the face of the simple system that the brothers strive for?

"There is a good bonus for the milk that goes into the Baileys scheme and even though almost a third of our milk goes into it, we only calve between 5-10pc of the herd in the autumn. Half of what we calve in the autumn is sold.

"They tend to be late calvers that would otherwise have been sold as culls so we get to add value to them by selling them as fresh autumn calvers and it gives us some extra sales to pay bills in the back-end of the year. Plus, it was a very important way to allow us to carry through extra cows when we were building the herd," says Paul.

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