Aim to trim labour units

21 July 2000

Aim to trim labour units

There was plenty to offer any

dairy producer seeking

greater returns at a recent

Teagasc Moorepark open

day held at its Solohead

Farm. Jessica Buss reports

from Co Tipperary

SURVIVING a milk price of 17.6p/litre on an Irish family farm means producing 80% of milk from grazed grass with 80 cows/labour unit.

This would help keep costs to 7p/litre, before family labour and finance, said Teagasc researcher Pat Dillion, speaking at a Moorepark open day attended by 5000 visitors.

A typical Irish farm producing 182,000 litres of milk needed to make at least £16,000 from the dairy enterprise, he added. However, he admitted that for a good family living and reinvesting in the farm, other enterprises, or off-farm income, were also required.

Teagasc – the Irish advisory service – had set targets to show how this could be achieved with overheads of 3.16p/litre and variable costs of 3.87p/litre (see table).

Keeping common costs down meant low building and machinery costs. Another crucial factor was keeping the right number of cows to fill the farms quota, he said.

Many producers kept extra cows with the hope of securing extra quota. But this had not proved possible under the Irish quota regime and had increased costs without lifting income, he said.

Achieving low variable costs required meeting three key objectives, added Dr Dillion. In the long term the target must be to manage 80 cows with just one labour unit.

It was also necessary to graze cows for a long season from early March to late November; and by calving 90% of the herd in February and March they would spend most of their lactation producing milk from grass.

"Spring calving cows at Solohead are producing 23 litres off grass alone now." But achieving this level of performance at grass required grass budgeting and good perennial ryegrass swards.

Teagasc researcher Michael ODonovan added that most of the paddocks at Solohead had been reseeded in the last five to seven years, allowing better grassland management to improve profit.

"Grass paddock and water troughs distribution both contribute to good grazing management," he said. But it is also crucial to have grass available to feed cows in early spring. This meant closing some paddocks in good time in autumn.

"At Solohead, spring grass growth usually meets demand on Apr 20, plus or minus 10 days, and thats when the first grazing cycle is planned to finish." In autumn, therefore, some paddocks are closed from Oct 10-15 to provide spring grass. Remaining paddocks are used to keep cows grazing until Nov 15-25, he added.

But it was vital that producers learned to assess grass cover before and after grazing paddocks to feed cows well and grow the maximum amount of grass.

Measuring grass cover meant that supplements could be introduced when supply was inadequate. But it was more difficult to manage a surplus of grass than a deficit, he said.

With a surplus producers had to decide what to take out of the rotation to keep high quality feed in front of cows – skipping paddocks to make in to silage. Otherwise they would graze laxly, the rotation would speed up, grass would be wasted and quality would drop unless paddocks were topped.

He advised leaving a 5cm (2in) stubble for optimum regrowth. "Leaving grass at 6-7cm means leaving more stem, which reduces photosynthesis and grows less grass."

Variable costs


Concentrates 0.88

Fertiliser 1.23

Contractor 0.7

Vet and med 0.44

AI and bull 0.44

Total 3.87*

* Figures dont add due to rounding.

Coping with a surplus of grass is more difficult than a deficit, says Teagascs Michael ODonovan.

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