19 August 1997

Pioneer says better use will pay off in cash

BETTER use of grazed grass can return profits of 16p/litre on many British dairy farms said Irish grazing pioneer Michael Murphy, who is milking 1200 cows on five farms in southern Ireland.

A strong focus on a high grass-based system can substantially reduce costs over time and improve profits on many farms to 50-70% of turnover, he said.

"A further little recognised but major advantage is that a low material handling system – a high grazed grass system – requires little capital expenditure in extremely low return areas such as machinery and buildings."

A well managed grass-based dairy farm is a wonderfully reliable cash cow that could lead to a rapid growth in net assets, he said. Two of his farms are 300-cow units in North Leinster, Eire, which has a colder climate than the south-west of England.

Since he bought these farms – which were both traditionally run and feeding at least 10t silage a cow, he has extended the grazing season from seven to nine-and-a-half months. So concentrate and silage use is down 50%, labour use has fallen, there is less slurry to scrape, animal health costs are lower, better milk composition and yields and far higher profits.

In 1991 his taxable profit was 6.2p/litre, in 1996 it was 16.5p/litre.

But the increased profit meant investing in basics such as drainage; soil fertility; re-seeding; infrastructure, roads, paddocking, water supply; higher herd replacement rates in the short-term to improve the herd rapidly; a more targeted calving pattern; and better management skills.

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