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Arrabawn Milk for Profit - Winter Feeding & Management Workshop

Over 100 people attended our latest Milk for Profit Farmwalk/Workshop on Winter Feeding & Management at the farm of Sean Monahan in Gloves, Athenry on Wednesday 6th December. There was a strong focus on winter milk systems on the day, though many of the principles discussed also apply equally to spring milk herds.

Arrabawn Milk for Profit co-ordinator Ruairi McDonnell outlined some options for farmers facing a fodder shortage. As described in more detail in last month’s edition of this newsletter, the first step is to quantify any potential shortfall. For silage pits, multiply the length x width x height in feet and divide by 50 to calculate the tonnes of fresh silage in the pit. Add any bales (average 0.65 t fresh silage per bale). Cows require 1.6 t/month fresh silage, 1-2 y/o will eat 1.3 t/month and 0-1 y/o will require 0.7 t/month. If a shortage of fodder is identified, options include selling cull cows and store cattle, or buying in extra fodder. Caution should be exercised if buying bales, which are highly likely to be poor quality and overpriced. It’s usually more economical to actually buy extra meal, unless the bales are very high quality. Fodder stretcher rations are available that are high in fibre and safe to feed in moderate amounts as a replacement for silage. One kg of meal will replace about 5-7 kg of fresh silage. Remember a dry cow will eat about 11 kg DM/day, and it’s important that a minimum of 6 kg DM is in the form of forage. Therefore, up to 5 kg DM of silage per cow can be saved daily by feeding meal. Early application of urea in spring was also highlighted as an important activity for farmers facing a forage shortage this winter, to ensure grass is available early next year.

Silage quality from 300 silage samples from Arrabawn suppliers was also presented. An average DMD of 66.6% and CP of 12.1% was reported across the Co-op suppliers. However the top 10% of samples average 73.6% DMD and 14.6% CP, indicating significant room for improvement exists, and is possible. Ruairi highlighted that farmers in liquid milk should be feeding their milking herd silage of this higher quality at all times during the winter period, to ensure diets of greater energy density are fed to support high milk yields. Brian Garry, Teagasc Ruminant Nutritionist, also picked up on this point in his presentation. High forage quality (>0.83 UFL) is the first step towards formulating a profitable ration for the winter milk herd. Brian stated than energy (UFL) is almost always the primary limiting factor in dairy cow diets. Analysing your concentrate ration for the UFL and PDI (protein) levels is the next step towards a well-balanced ration. It’s important to consider the cost per UFL, as well as the cost per tonne, as these are often different. For an average 600 kg cow, with a milk fat of 4.1% and a milk protein of 3.4%, she requires 17.2 UFL/d to produce 25 kg of milk, 19.4 UFL/d to produce 30 kg of milk and 21.6 UFL/d to produce 35 kg of milk.

Teagasc advisor Tom Murphy’s presentation on Labour Management highlighted some important points – a recent Teagasc survey of 1000 farmers showed that the workload peaks in spring for spring calving herds (as would be expected), but there was no evidence of a reduced spring peak for liquid milk herds. Therefore liquid milk herds work an average of 4 hrs per LU extra each year, due to the increased autumn and winter workload. Sean’s farm had a couple of key features which helped him to be more efficient, one of which is an excellent use of contractors. Important spring jobs like fertiliser and slurry spreading are contracted out and well organised in advance. Not only is this a labour saving, but it also allows Sean cut silage early and achieve better quality, partly due to there being no delay beyond the optimum time for fertiliser application. Sean stressed as a key message that that contractor costs are 100% tax deductible within that given year.

Teagasc’s Pat Clarke (who has recently become the regional manager for the Galway/Clare area), presented a board on the optimum cow type. An exercise where Sean’s herd was individually ranked and divided into 4 quartiles based on their overall Economic Breeding Index (EBI) was shown. The highest quartile of cows for EBI  had the highest milk & fertility indexes and the highest Predicted Difference (PD) for milk protein. This translated into an average yield per day across the full year of 1.29 kg/cow of MS for the highest quartile, compared to 1.20, 1.18 and 1.17 kg MS/day for the 2nd, 3rd & 4th quartiles respectively. When calculated based on the same milk price for all quartiles for a typical 100 cow herd, the 2nd, 3rd and 4th quartiles had milk incomes of - €13,873, - €16,425 and  -€19,710 compared to the top quartile. The exercise clearly showed the value to be gained by selecting replacements to increase the EBI of your herd. The difference in income over 100 cows was due to the improved fertility and longevity in the herd of cows in the highest quartile. The message was we should aim to breed cows that produce milk of a high value (higher protein & fat), that stay in the herd for 4-5 lactations and that go back in calf easily, thus keeping the average herd calving interval as close as possible to 365 days.

We would like to thank all the farmers who attended the day, and the speakers who presented. A special thanks to Sean & his family for their excellent hospitality on the day.

Milk for profit workshop

Health & Safety

Another point on the Farmwalk at Sean Monahans– there was a very important contribution made by Peter Gohery, a farmer from Eyrecourt that lost his leg in a PTO accident caused by loose clothing a few years ago. Peter’s story emphasized to everyone how essential it is to be mindful of Health & Safety, and how it should be at the forefront of everyone’s mind at all times on the farm. Farm safety statistics in Ireland are very poor relative to other industries and we all have a responsibility to improve this, not only for farmers but farm staff & family members also. Peter highlighted the benefits of having a Will in place for all farmers to protect family members in case of a serious injury or death on the farm, particularly on farms where high levels of debt are carried and families may be financially exposed if a worst case scenario occurred.

Handout from the day: Winter feeding and management 2017 - Handout (PDF)

Milk for profit workshop

Previous workshops