By Stephen Cadogan
Strong markets helped to lift the average milk price paid to Irish dairy farmers in December to €41.80/100 kg, according to the European Commission’s Milk Market Observatory.
Across the EU-28, this was surpassed only in Malta (€51.17), and the average was only €37.76.
Even in May, a peak supply month, the actual average milk price paid to Irish dairy farmers was €32.63 per 100 kg, close to the EU average of €32.89. Helping to boost Irish milk prices is a 20 kg milk solids increase in 2017, revealed at the recent Dairygold Co-op Dairy Day event.
Seamus O’Mahony, Head of Sales & Marketing, Dairygold Agribusiness, said milk solids per cow have improved in recent years, due to uptake of breeding, grass and feeding technologies.
Farmers at the well attended Dairygold event heard that 625kg of milk solids per cow is the target in the University College Dublin Systems Herd, described as a simple grazed grass plus 1.5 tonnes of concentrate per cow system.
UCD targets include increasing grass grown to 14.5t; and grass consumed to 3.2t/cow. Weekly updates on the UCD herd can be found at the http://www.ucd.ie/agfood/ website.
However, the Dairygold event also heard that labour is a significant issue for many of the co-op’s farmers in 2018 and beyond, with over 530 labour units required on dairy farms across the spring.
“Many farmers are looking outside the farm gate for labour, contractors and other mechanisms to reduce the long hours being worked on farm,”, said Seamus O’Mahony. With Dairygold members intending to increase milk supply by more than 16%, efficiencies in labour, management and capital resources such as cows, technology and facilities need to be reviewed to ensure a sustainable lifestyle, he said.
Management consultant Nollaig Heffernan said, “First, you need to be a good employer, to attract good employees”. She said every sector struggles to find good employees, and creating opportunities for improvement on the farm, and giving oneself or staff responsibility, leads to higher performance.
Dr Stan Lalor of Grassland AGRO highlighted the fundamental importance of building a simple and easy-to-implement fertiliser programme for the farm. “If you buy your fertiliser assuming your soils are okay without looking at soil test results, you could have a 90% chance that you bought the wrong product.”
John Newbold, Head of Technical, Animal Nutrition, Volac, said calves are expected to double their weight in 56 days, so it is of primary importance to actually weigh the calf and set up milk replacer accordingly.
“It is vital to tailor the amount fed to the size of the calves. We need to first assess the weight of the new-born calf to work out that calf’s nutritional requirements.”
He advised farmers to provide palatable, fresh starter feed water from day one; social housing (pair or group) is advantageous to calf growth; reduce the milk offered over a three-week period, to facilitate solid feed intake; and offer chopped quality forage with concentrate for rumen development.