26 December 1997

Extended grazing cuts yields and costs too…

Producing a lower cost litre

has been a must for one

Irish dairy farmer over the

past five years. Jessica Buss

joined an Axient study tour

of dairy farms in County

Limerick

JUST five years ago, cows at Ballyculhine, Glin, spent five months housed in winter, and 75% of the farm was closed up for silage in spring.

Now Tom Moore only cuts silage when the grass is surplus to grazing requirements, and this provides enough to feed cows for two months, despite using less nitrogen.

Mr Moore started by extending the grazing season for a week at each end, and then a month. Now the grazing season is 10 months long and by rotationally grazing he can stock with more animals and still has more grass. But he must accept a lower yield a cow.

Milk sales are 3000 litres a cow – produced in just 210 days – but because milk production costs are a mere 10p/litre he still makes a profit.

Mr Moore feeds no concentrate to his 80-cow herd, choosing to produce milk off grass to fill quota and provide milk for calves.

To produce more milk would require Mr Moore to take on extra land under Irelands strict quota leasing rules. But he has no use for extra land which would probably be far from the home farm. And with grazing costs at £17/t DM, he believes it is better to rent land than buy concentrates for additional feed.

Reduced reliance on concentrates and silage also means that machinery, labour and variable costs can be minimised (see panel).

But to convert as much grass as possible into milk, cows must calve at the start of the grazing season. "Calving later means more winter feed is needed, so it is not as economical," says Mr Moore.

He drys off the cows in November when quota is filled, which gives the herd a two- to three-month break, and saves his labour costs.

Dry cows are rotationally grazed or fed silage, and housed during spells of wet weather. They graze for three hours when ground conditions allow and if there is enough grass to do so without taking cover too low, whichwould cause a shortage of spring grazing.

"We are lucky to be relatively frost-free, but salt spray from the river can damage plant tips. We also put a small amount of nitrogen on in November, which raises grass sugars and protects it from frost," says Mr Moore.

Cows go out four days before calving and calve outside. "After calving cows are rotationally grazed and are not fed any silage because it lowers yields. Grass silage is lower in energy than grass," he says.

Mr Moore aims for a target grass cover of 3500kg for grazing, with an average farm cover of 1700kg in March. He judges this by eye when walking fields twice a week.

The 75 youngstock reared on the 50ha (125 acres) farmed are also rotationally grazed and only fed concentrate in their first winter at 1kg a day. There will be wet days on the farm, which receives 1300mm (52in) of rain a year, but cows have never grazed more than 20% of the farm in the wet, he adds.

Extended grazing suits the cows, which are healthy and fertile, and have little lameness. "No vet has been on the farm for four years except to blood sample cows." This is because lactations are shorter, grazing is extended and any problem cows are sold, explains Mr Moore.

UK dairy farmers hear how Irish producer Tom Moore has cut costs by grazing for 10 months of the year – and by feeding no concentrate.

Ballyculhine costings

Total milk production costs are less than 10p/litre. Mr Moore spends just £3000 a year on power and machinery, including business use of his car, with almost no depreciation due to the age of machinery kept.

That amounts to just 1.2p/litre spent on machinery compared with a UK average from Axient Farm Business Accounts of 2.7p/litre, plus depreciation.

About another 1.2p/litre is spent on employed labour. He admits employed labour is not essential because there is no feeding or yard scraping when cows are milking, but it adds quality of life and is affordable.

Variable costs including fertiliser, lime, concentrates, and reseeding total less than £11,000 – 4.6p/litre.

IN FIVE YEARS

&#8226 Production costs cut.

&#8226 All milk produced from forage.

&#8226 Grazing season extended by three months.

&#8226 Machinery costs minimised.

Extended grazing suits the cows, which are healthy and fertile and suffer little lameness…Tom Moore.