Farm Ireland

Tuesday 23 January 2018

'The top dairy farmers can handle 117 cows per man'

Teagasc dairy specialist Pat Clark
Teagasc dairy specialist Pat Clark

Farmers need to have efficient systems before they start into expansion was the clear message from Teagasc specialists at the farm walk in David Hannon's farm.

Pat Clarke highlighted the results from a Teagasc survey of over 800 farmers showing that the most efficient farmers tended to start the milking an hour earlier in the evening.

"Some farmers are afraid to start milking earlier in the evening because they feel that their cows will yield less.

"But all the research shows that your milk yield will be the same whether you leave a 12 hour interval or an eight hour interval. If you start earlier, you will finish earlier," Mr Clarke told farmers.

Other characteristics of efficient farmers included feeding calves once-a-day, heavier reliance on contractors, synchronising heifers and a shorter calving season, and more days at grass.

"The top 5pc of farmers spend half the amount of time per livestock unit compared to the average. That means that they are able to handle about 117 cows per man - double the average," he said.

He stressed the importance of simple systems such as spring calving to achieve both efficiency and scale. "Typical liquid milk herds have maybe 11 different groups of stock, while the spring calving operation might only have three," he said.

When asked how he coped with the workload of calving 160 cows in six weeks, host farmer Mr Hannon said that the system had evolved to cope well.

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"I used to have calving cameras and get up in the middle of the night. But to be honest, I don't know where the cameras are now, because I never use them.

"If there's going to be a problem heifer, I'll set my alarm and get up, but the vast majority, I'll have a look around the yard at 9pm and check again at 6am in the morning.

The cows are locked out of the feeding area during the day so they concentrate on feeding at night, and I'd say that we lose more cows during the day than during the night at this stage," he said.

"I've also switched to getting a relief milker in every third weekend so that both myself and Padraig (employee) are only working every third weekend.

"It is very busy in February, but I don't really work later than 6pm in the evening.

"To help with this, we only milk once-a-day for that month."

But it's the ones and twos at the end of the calving season that we find most difficult to keep right, probably because we're busy milking and sheds are getting that bit more tired with disease," he said.

Indo Farming