Quality milk sees prices increase

Autumn calving is almost over at Ballindeasig, with 24 of the 32 cows and heifers having dropped their calves – all out of doors and all unassisted.

Combined with a still plentiful supply of grass, more milk is flowing into the bulk tank on a daily basis.

The recently calved animals are contributing about 34 litres each, compared with a more modest 15 litres from the 46 spring calvers.

The quality of the milk is also excellent – October butterfat now stands at 4.68% and protein 3.91%.

The result is an increase in dairy revenues, with the 28,673 litres of September milk achieving a net price of 32.48c/litre (22.1p), including VAT.

That represents a 1.9c/litre (1.3p) improvement over the previous month’s payment and 5.7c/litre (3.9p) above the basic Dairygold price.

It also ensures that Ballindeasig’s dairy enterprise has maintained its 3c/litre (2p) premium over the co-op average, reflecting the higher milk constituents and top-quality hygiene.

October deliveries should show a further price improvement as the first of the winter premiums kick in.

These are worth 1.7c/litre (1.2p) for October, doubling to 3.4c/litre (2.4p) from November to February.

But owner/manager Ed Jagoe has recently received notification from Dairygold that this scheme is set to change.

From next year, winter premiums will only be available for four months rather than five.

And, while they will be paid at the higher rate of 5.6c/litre (3.8p), there will also be tighter restrictions on the volume of milk that has to be delivered during the period.

Under the current scheme, farmers have to submit at least 20% of their quota from October to February, with a minimum 3% supplied in any one month.

But for 2006/07 they will have to deliver at least 24% of their quota from November to February, with at least 4.5% supplied each month.

The conditions for 2007/08 and 2008/09 will be tighter still.

Mr Jagoe intends to stick with winter milk until he sees how the new scheme works out, as a move to spring calving only would mean having to buy a larger bulk tank. But he is adamant that the Irish dairy sector needs to do more to deliver a better return to primary producers.

“Rationalisation is the key,” he says.

“Dairygold has actually done quite well since its tie-up last year with Glanbia.

But elsewhere in the country there are buyers who seriously need to look at their collection and processing arrangements.”

Adding value and developing premium brands is also essential.

“That’s been my big complaint for many years.

Dairygold is making an effort with its Dairy Heart spread and its Karlsberg cheese. But generally the industry is five years off the pace.”

Mr Jagoe believes quality is everything, both at producer and processor level.

He has, therefore, recently had his herd “type classified” by the Irish Holstein Friesian Association, to get a better idea of each cow’s merits.

The cows were judged on four criteria – body condition, legs and feet, mammaries and dairy character.

Of the 53 cows and heifers assessed, 14 were deemed VG, 29 were G+, nine were G and one was F.

The overall herd score was 82 points.

“In all, the exercise took about two-and-a-half hours and cost us 8.5 (5.80) for each cow.

But it’s really useful to know which cows are best for what. Combined with individual milk recording, this will help in our breeding selection.”

With some freshly calved heifers to sell, type classification should also help Mr Jagoe negotiate a better price.

Meanwhile, thoughts are turning to winter feeding, though Mr Jagoe says he will not be buying anything in until he has a clearer picture of his silage quality.

Recent analysis shows that the first-cut grass silage had a satisfactory DMD of 75.9, with 27% dry matter, 13.9% protein and a pH of 3.9%.

Results for the maize silage and crimped wheat have not yet been received.

For now, the cows are all still out at grass, though to prolong the grazing season they are also getting a big bale of silage after milking.

“We aim to get at least 300 days a year at grass,” says Mr Jagoe.

“This ensures we get a high protein content and that is good for the milk price.”