Farm Ireland

Tuesday 21 November 2017

Make technology your friend

John Donworth

As we are all aware, last year was a devil of a year. In a few articles last year, I monitored the performance of a discussion group, comparing last year's performance with that of 2008.

Obviously as last year progressed, the milk price figures looked as if Anglo Irish Banks was setting the milk price. So, how did our discussion group navigate their way through the choppy waters (floods) of the year from hell? The table (right) tells you all you need to know.

The milk price is down 12c/l (55c/ga), fat percentage remained steady, protein percentage is back 0.04pc, milk yield is down 213 litres (47ga/cow) and milk solids yield/cow is down 19kg.

The only item that went up was concentrate use per cow. This went from 651kg/cow in 2008 to 668kg/cow last year -- an increase of 17kg/cow.


The majority of this group are farming on soils that are reasonably OK so the drop in yield was not as severe as that which occurred on difficult soils. Nevertheless, the group lost 40ga of milk per cow and this is something I am sure they don't want to see happening this year.

In general, milk protein percent took a real hammering last year. Drops of 0.1-0.15pc were not uncommon among dairy farmers who had very good milk protein percent in any case. Our discussion group did exceptionally well to keep the dip at 0.04pc, even though one or two members of the group lost 0.1pc.

Fat percentage didn't rise for the group last year. At an average of 4.01, it's a strong figure in any case. However, it is important to keep this figure on an upward graph as it's a major component of milk price. The combined fat and protein percentage for this group is 7.48.

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The aim now for this group is to drive the figure to 8pc total solids, while at the same time keeping the milk solids/cow at a minimum of 420kg. The group can achieve this figure, at a yield of 5,100 litres/cow, and with more kilogrammes of fat and protein in the milk supply.

While grassland management skills will be critical here, bull selection will be more important in the long term. I reckon it will take the group five years to reach the target of 8pc total solids.

Breaking it down, it amounts to a fat percent of 4.30 and a protein percent of 3.70. Is taking a drop in milk yield acceptable advice for this group? I believe it is. Less yield means the cow is not under the same pressure at breeding time, and I am sure there are other benefits as well.


While concentrate usage went up in the group by an average of 19k/cow, the cost of the ration dropped from €244/t in 2008 to an average of €185/t last year. This is a drop of €59/t. That, at least, is a good news story. Ration usage is all about the price of the litre of milk and the cost of the tonne of ration. Average meal feeding levels with this group are not low. It is something they need to be very conscious of.

Finally, to the net milk price (VAT inclusive) that this group achieved last year: on average, the group achieved a net milk price of 23.77c/l (108c/ga).

This is about 2.5c/l higher than the average figures across the majority of dairy farms. Very good fat and protein percent figures are the secret to their statistics.

Some dairy farmers complain to me that I should not use figures from what is obviously a very good and performing dairy discussion group. I am told I should be using figures from what is an average group.

Well, I am not sure what represents an average group.

And, if I was a dairy farmer, I certainly do not want to be comparing myself with the average.

This discussion group has the figures it has because it has taken on board all the technology that's been out there for the past 10-15 years.

Existing technologies are good enough to enable them to achieve that 8pc total solids I have already mentioned. If new technologies are developed, I am sure they will adopt them overnight.

Over to you ...

Irish Independent