4 messages for the dairy industry

More than 15,000 farmers attended the biannual Teagasc Moorepark Research Open day in Fermoy, County Cork, on 4 July to learn about the latest research being conducted at the centre. 

There were four main information stations which covered the main topics the researchers felt were key for dairy farmers to focus on.

The topics were – the principles of resilient dairying, people first, feeding the modern cow at pasture and the perfect cow.

See also: Ageing Irish dairy industry needs 6,000 new entrants

Here’s a brief summary of what was discussed at each one:  

1. Resilient dairying 

Farmers can increase efficiency through better grass use.

Data showed, over the past seven years, grass use increased nationally by 1.2t/ha DM and milk solids (MS) production had increased by 174kg/ha. 

Meanwhile, cost of production had reduced by 1.6 cent/litre (140p/litre), and debt per kg/MS had also reduced.

Researchers said there was still huge room for improvement, as the national average grass growth was 9.1t/ha DM compared with the average of farmers on Pasture Base Ireland who produced 13.9t/ha DM.

They went on to point out the route to increasing output was through improving soil fertility, reseeding, grazing infrastructure and breeding high economic breeding index cows.

2. People first

There is a need to upskill the current and future dairy labour force.

It is estimated the Irish dairy farming industry will need an additional 6,000 employees by 2025.

So it is important to have a system that is attractive to potential employees.

Farmers also need to make sure they have the management skills required to deal with the extra staff.

It is also incumbent on all farmers to overcome the negative perceptions of the industry and promote the industry as an attractive, viable career option for anyone. 

Researchers also pointed out the need for farmers to work smarter and not harder, and the key to this was planning.

3. Feeding the cow at pasture  

There is significant room for farmers to grow and use more grass, but more importantly, farmers need to match the stocking rate to the grass grown to get maximum efficiency.

At a utilisation rate of 80% to carry a stocking rate of three cows a hectare you need to grow 15t/ha DM.

This provides 4t of grass a cow a year. Researchers said this should allow farmers to stick to the target of no more than 10% of the diet being purchased feed.

4. The perfect cow

One of the most efficient ways to increase farm production is to increase herd age profile.

Mature cows will give 24% more milk than heifers, so the higher the proportion of mature cows the more production you will achieve, researchers pointed out.

This increase, however, is only achievable if the cow has the fertility to enable her to stay in the herd and reach maturity.

The EBI index is striving to produce easy care, efficient cows which have high fertility, can produce high volumes of milk solids and last at least five lactations.

Significant strides have already been made, with the fertility of the national herd improving.

National calving intervals are falling year on year to a point where they are now back to 391 days. However, researchers said fertility can be further improved by harnessing the EBI.

Herd expansion

The Irish Dairy industry is expanding with cow numbers increasing by 20% over the past three years to 1.35m, this has led to an increase in production of 26% over the same period, with milk production per cow up by 6%.