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Farm walk at Pat & Eddie Kennedy's

The latest farmwalk on the joint Arrabawn/Teagasc Milk for Profit program was held at Pat and Eddie Kennedys farm in Ballingarry, Co. Tipperary on Wednesday June 28th. Over 100 farmers attended, and heard presentations on a range of issues including mid-season grassland management, the costs of dairy farm expansion, labour management and the optimal stocking rate.

The Kennedys are currently milking 161 cows on a milking platform of 56.6 ha, with a milking platform stocking rate (SR) of 2.84 LU/ha. A total of 91 ha are farmed including an outfarm which is used for silage and young stock, and the overall farm SR is 2.6 LU/ha. The farm is fairly dry and 13.8 t DM/ha was grown on the milking platform in 2016, with cows producing 472 kg of milk solids at an average of 3.59 % protein and 4.31% fat. A total of 585 kg of meal/cow was fed in 2016. Both Pat and Eddie stated the main focus is on increasing the amount of grass grown and utilised, while keeping costs down. Much of the milking platform has been reseeded in recent years, and additional underperforming paddocks (12% of MP) are marked out for reseeding in the next month once aftergrass comes back into the grazing rotation. Current farm cover is 154 kg DM/cow. Improvements in autumn grazing management will allow for greater yields of DM/ha. In 2016, peak average farm cover was just 775 kg DM/ha in October when a target of 1100 kg DM/ha is recommended at this SR. Moving reseeding forward from August to July will allow these paddocks get back into the rotation quicker in autumn to help achieve this.

Whilst soil pH is adequate on the farm, 41% of paddocks were Index 1 or 2 for P and 21% Index 2 for K. Eddie stated that nitrates derogation limits prevented them from applying as much chemical P as they would like to address this issue. Silage testing from last year showed a selenium deficiency, which they suspected was related to a high number of retained cleanings (10% of cows). Eddie said these incidences were much reduced this spring and felt that the use of Selinigrass fertiliser contributed to this improvement.

Going forward, they plan to add another 10 cows to the milking platform in 2018, which requires an extra tonne of grass DM/ha to maintain the same SR. Milk yield increased from 459 to 472 kg MS/cow from 2015 to 2016, and the target in the coming years is to achieve 500 kg MS/cow. Maintaining a replacement rate of 18-20%, culling high SCC cows and increasing the average age of the herd will help achieve this target. The Kennedys have been routinely milk recording since 2011, and this has helped them produce higher quality milk and identify non-performing cows for culling and high-performing cows to breed replacements from. Average EBI is €102, with a six-week calving rate of 81% in 2017 and a 21-day submission rate of 89%.

In terms of financials, the Kennedys operate one of the lowest cost systems around. Total variable costs were 8.93 c/l, lower than the figure of 10.33 c/l for the top 25% in the Teagasc profit monitor. Common costs (total production costs excluding labour, interest and land rent) were 14.33 c/l in 2016, which also puts them in the top 25% of Teagasc profit monitor farms in 2015/16 for this parameter.

Patrick Gowing of Teagasc provided some excellent information to farmers considering expanding their farms. In particular, he stressed that the returns on expansion investment will not be seen until the full expansion is complete. He encouraged farmers looking to expand to consider capital loans instead of stretching themselves by fully funding the expansion costs from cashflow. Given the volatile nature of milk price fluctuations, having some cash saved for a rainy day is important.

Pat Clarke of Teagasc spoke about managing the extra workload that comes with expansion. Options like contracting fertiliser application in spring to lessen the workload were outlined for farmers. Local teagasc Dairy advisor Michael Hogan talked about matching SR to concentrate use and pasture growth.  For example, a farm feeding 580 kg/cow of concentrate with a SR of 2.2 LU/ha, increasing to 2.5 LU/ha, needs to increase grass grown from 12 t DM/ha to 14 t DM/ha. See our website for the Farmwalk handout for more information. Special thanks to our speakers Patrick Gowing, Pat Clarke and Michael Hogan. Finally, thanks to the Kennedys for participating in the programme.

Handout from the farm walk

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