Farm Ireland

Wednesday 17 January 2018

The real nitty gritty details of dairy expansion

The cost farmers think of when expanding is a new parlour
The cost farmers think of when expanding is a new parlour
Darragh McCullough

Darragh McCullough

The show of hands told the story.

When Teagasc's dairy specialist Donal Patton asked the 300-strong crowd of farmers attending the farm walk in David Hannon's in Meath last week if they had ever borrowed to invest in soil fertility or roadways, only one hand went up.

Over the last 30 years the rate of expansion on Irish farmers was slower, so most farmers could do it out of cash-flow.

But that's all changed now with herds jumping up by 100 or even 200 cows at a time, particularly in some of the less intensive dairy areas where land banks are still available.

The first cost that farmers think of when expanding is a new parlour, the stock, or sheds.

But Donal Patton's message was not to underestimate the cost of getting new land up to speed - even if it is in good nick. Before any drainage work is considered, you probably won't see much change out of €1,000/ac.

In fact, the hardest thing for farmers is often getting the digger back out once he gets started. That's why it's crucial to have a plan and stick to it. It's not realistic to get everything done the way you want it in the first year. If it's a choice between keeping the digger in for another week to tackle a wet patch in the corner or spend that €5,000 on lime, be wise enough to realise that you will make more money out of liming every acre, rather than fixing the wet 0.5ac.

Setting up your grazing infrastructure has become a bit of an art. Again, Patton had many fascinating insights. He maintains that cows will do half the amount of damage when they are grazing compared to walking. The theory is that cows stand on all four feet when they're grazing, rather than two when they are walking. That's why square paddocks suffer less than long rectangular ones.

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Bringing cows in by the furthest gap, and out by the nearest to prevent poaching; positioning water-troughs at wire divisions rather than roadways; increasing flowrates rather than the size of troughs; and cutting back over-hanging trees to help laneways dry out were some of the gems of advice that kept farmers rapt.

He also advocated a minimum laneway width of 4m for 100 cow herds, with extra width at the bends and closer to the parlour. "Cows hate bumping into each other", he said.

He said that paddocks should be sized to get three grazings to ensure that cows are only working hard cleaning out paddocks for one third of the time.

I also liked his advice on testing out laneways. "Find an old pair of wellies with thin soles, and then go walk your lanes. If they aren't comfortable for you, they won't be comfortable for the cow."

A powerful example of what Teagasc specialists do best.

Indo Farming