CHANGING milk supply patterns will help Irish milk processors supply high value-added consumer products to the European market all year.
Teagasc researchers at Moorepark research centre, Fermoy, Co Cork, advocate a switch to winter milk production for some dairy producers. We dont expect a mass change-over to autumn calving, says winter milk production specialist Seamus Fitzgerald.
"We expect the majority of dairy producers will remain spring calvers, as its an easier system to manage, despite added bonuses for producing winter milk making it an attractive option."
Processors will be particularly keen to entice a few large producers, in the south and east of Ireland, to switch over to winter milk, because they need quality winter milk for their product ranges which are easy to collect from, he says.
To encourage producers to switch to winter milk, processors are lifting ceilings on the amount of winter milk which can qualify for financial bonuses.
"With a consistent supply, processors can mix high quality winter milk with low quality late lactation milk from spring calving herds, to supply a range of short shelf-life products, such as Mozzarella cheese, soft cheese, yoghurts and cream liquors. It also means that processors plants are used for more of the year."
One of Irelands large milk processors, Carberry has lifted its ceiling on how much winter milk a producer can sell from 35% to 50%, says Dr Fitzgerald. "Effectively to fill 50% of your milk quota from winter milk means being 100% autumn calving."
But there are concerns over winter feeding and how much extra it will cost autumn calving herds. "It would seem that grass silage is not sufficient to maintain milk production and there is reasonable evidence to support this: Production improves when other feeds such as maize silage are brought into the ration."
When maize silage can be grown and fed at up to 20% starch in dry matter of silage, and mixed with grass silage in the ration, forage intakes and milk yield will increase and yield improve, says Dr Fitzgerald.
Where it is not possible to grow maize, including wet by-products in the ration, such as brewers grains, pressed sugar beet pulp and fodder beet, has a similiar benefit, he adds.
"Comparing diets of brewers grains, sugar beet pulp and grass silage with a diet of grazed grass and grass silage, shows the mixed forage diet benefits with milk yield increase of 3.5kg a day in the main winter period." *