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Episode 60

On this week's episode of The Dairy Edge podcast, Johnstown Castle dairy farm manager Aidan Lawless gives an update on the performance of the Johnstown Castle herd.

Firstly Aidan gives an insight into the current performance of the autumn calving herd. Cows were out at grass since January 10th which is uncharacteristic but Aidan explained with the mild winter and high overwinter growth, there was a high cover of grass and good ground conditions. Aidan explained that the breeding season had gone with very little evidence of repeats. Cows were bred for a total of 11.5 weeks with 6 weeks of AI and the stock bulls.

He also explained that over 90% of the spring herd have calved to date. February was a good month but he explained that weather conditions have made grazing more difficult over the last 10 days. Cows are getting at least 90% of the grazed grass allocation when they get out for two grazing bouts in the day but reminds us that they are being very careful not to damage swards. 

Looking back to 2018, Aidan was slightly disappointed with MS production of 520 kg MS per cow. He thinks prolonged housing and silage supplementations during periods in April and May had an impact on the milk production potential of the herd.

Finally, Aidan reviews the 2018 farming year and the key lesson for the Johnstown Castle Dairy Herd. Aidan explains that the milking platform stocking rate of 2.7 cows/ha is comfortable based on grass growth capability. 

In 2019 they will work hard to re-build stocks of buffer silage and be more proactive in the decisions around timing the sale of cull cows and surplus heifers.

Episode 59

Grass 10 campaign manager John Maher joins us to give an update on grazing conditions across the country and his top tips for the rest of spring grazing rotation.

John recalls the perfect grazing conditions experience in the month of February which allowed many farmers to hit the target 30% grazed by March 1st. He explained that this was demonstrated particularly well on farms that had optimum stocking rate and high 6 week calving rates.

The mixed weather including heavy rainfall and snow during the first ten days of March means that farmers are experiencing more challenging grazing conditions.

To maintain high levels of grazed grass in the dairy cow's diet, John encourages farmers to adopt on/off grazing and eliminate silage in the diet where possible. 

John reminds us why this is important - each 1 kg DM (5 kg fresh weight) of silage will reduce grazing time by 30-45 minutes per day. Cows indoors by night should have no silage available after midnight to ensure they are keen to graze after their morning milking.

To overcome challenging ground conditions, he encourages farmers to walk their farm to identify the driest paddocks. Factors to consider when selecting paddocks should include grass cover, infrastructure and ground conditions.

Finally, John reminds us the second round of fertiliser is due to be spread on farms now. Farmers should spread 40 units in a combination of chemical and organic Nitrogen. Where farmers are busy, consider the contractor for this task!

Episode 58

Vet Doreen Corridan joins Emma-Louise Coffey on this week’s episode of The Dairy Edge, to discuss the benefits of measuring herd performance through milk recording.

Doreen quantifies the economic benefit of milk recording to the tune of €23,000 from a 100 cow herd compared with herds that don’t milk record. With approximately 50% of dairy herds in Ireland, there are substantial financial gains to be achieved on many dairy farms across the country.

Where is the additional €23,000 coming from? Doreen explains that cows in milk recording herds produced more 50 kg more milk solids. Furthermore, cows tend to have lower SCC, higher genetic merit, more days in milk, higher 6 week calving rates and a greater no of lactations.

Doreen emphasises the ability to rank cows on profitability from most profitable to least profitable. This should guide farmers to select dams to breed replacement heifers and the poorest performing cows for culling from the herd.

The number of milk recordings will between herds but Doreen suggests a minimum of 4 recordings should be carried out in the year. The first milk recording should take place in the 1st 60 days of lactation, with a guide date of mid-March. 

She could not emphasise enough the importance of this milk recording as it calculates the effectiveness or the cure rate of the previous dry period.  Doreen encourages all farmers to milk record and take management actions based on results. 

The cost of recording 100 cows 4 times per year is €1,150 and will lead to additional profit of €23,000. Doreen reminds us that some co-ops have initiatives that supplement the cost of milk recording.

Episode 57

Dairy Farmer, Peter Hynes, joins Emma-Louise Coffey to talk about a fundraising initiative 'Rearing To Go' that aims to help raise awareness of mental health on the farm. 

Peter is well known in farming circles for speaking out on his own struggles with mental health and depression.  He reminds us that the Spring can be a busy and stressful time on farms and it could lead to stress among farmers. His top tips are to eat well, sleep well, use the contractor to reduce workload, and get off the farm even for an hour or two and talk to people.

Rearing To Go is a charity auction in aid of The Thomas Hayes Trust. The funds go towards the running of Teac Tom, an initiative started by the Hayes family to support individuals and their families affected by suicide or contemplating suicide. 

How can you get involved? Dairy farmers are encouraged to donate a calf for the auction on March 2nd in Corrin Mart, Fermoy. Peter explained that majority of the calves are dairy calves but some farmers have no surplus dairy calves so have donated dairy beef calves. 

Farmers that donate a calf will receive a bag of Volac Heiferlac and Dairgold Calf Pride nuts and Peter encouraged families to get out for a family friendly day whilst also supporting a very worthy cause. If you would like to donate a calf contact Peter on 087 0644678.

Episode 56

The Brexit deadline is ticking and with so many questions still in the air for Irish agriculture, we spoke to Teagasc's Head of Rural Economy and Development, Kevin Hanrahan, to explain the potential outcomes.

A crash out scenario will have a significant impact on the Irish agricultural sector, Kevin explains, saying the magnitude is greatest for the beef sector with a 20% decline in carcass price compared with less than 10% to milk price.

The uncertainty surrounding Brexit makes it incredibly hard to predict the full effect on Irish farmers and Kevin advises farmers to hold off on any substantial investment to their farm business in a volatile production environment where there is a risk around repayment capacity.

Episode 55

Soil and plant nutrition specialist, Mark Plunkett, joins Emma-Louise Coffey on this week's Dairy Edge podcast to highlight the upward trends in soil fertility across Irish soils.

Mark highlights the increased lime usage, resulting in a greater proportion of soils at optimum of pH 6.3 or greater and explains that optimum pH gives rise to improved nutrient uptake and consequently, higher grass production.  While Phosphorous and Potassium levels are improving on farms, there is still a lot of room for improvement.

Mark reminds us to be aware of the changes in the allowance of Phosphorus, with an additional allowance of build-up Phosphorus for index 1 and 2 soils. He also noted that 2019 Phosphorus allowance will change for farmers as a consequence of the increased level of concentration supplementation throughout 2018.

While Potassium use is not limiting on farms, Indexes remain low on many farms and Mark reminds us of the significant off-take of Potassium from silage cutting. Baled silage is a component of grazing systems which means unlike grazing, nutrients are not recycled back onto the land.  He recommends that each farmer takes a look at soil sample results and make a fertiliser plan, targeting fertiliser use to the needs of your soils.

Episode 54

Dairy advisor, Richard O'Brien, gives advice on how to best manage grassland for the month of February.

Richard explains that there is a lot of grass on dairy farms, with approximately 30% more grass on farms compared with this time last year. With that in mind, Richard encourages all farmers to get out to see what grass is on farm and target the lighter covers in order to get 30% grazed by March 1st.

When reflecting on the Spring Rotation Planner, Richard challenges farmers to hit 15% by February 15th, emphasising the importance of early grazing to ensure there is enough regrowth for the 1st week of April at the start of the 2nd round.

He believes the good underfoot conditions will give confidence to dairy farmers to get out to grass day and night. Based on feed budgets completed to date in combination with high farm covers, grass can make up the majority of the dairy cow diet with just 2-3 kg concentrate supplementation where grazing conditions allow.

Episode 53

Drystock farmer (contract rearer and sheep) John O’Connell and drystock advisor Tom Coll join Emma-Louise Coffey to discuss contract rearing.

Tom explains the various arrangements between rearers and dairy cow farmers and explores the various topics discussed at discussion group and the targets the group set for themselves including target weights, fertility and grassland management.

Tom identifies the contract as the most important element of the agreement so that both parties have understanding of who pays for each of the costs associated with rearing, the income per animal for the contract rearer, target weights and fertility targets.

John O’Connell, who is farming in Ballinamore, Co Leitrim, explains the evolution of his farm from a 30-35 cow dairy herd in the 1980s to drystock in the 1990s. 

John was completing the profit monitor each year and identified a lack of profitability from his suckler cows compared with his sheep flock, leading to expansion of sheep numbers. In 2015 John was approached by his local Teagasc advisor with an opportunity. John explains he had the winter housing facilities available on farm so felt this option was a no-brainer!

He explains that good grazing infrastructure, grass production and silage quality drive low cost system leading to high profits. John is a member of a contract rearing discussion group where he can bench mark himself against other contract rearers across many performance metrics.

Episode 52

This week we're joined by Michael Dineen, who explains the research investigating the true value of grazed grass, identifying the limiting nutrients available to grazing dairy cows.

Michael takes an in-depth look at the different components of the grass plant including the protein content (Crude Protein, CP) and fibre content (Neutral Detergent Fibre, NDF).

He highlights the nutritional quality of grass and the competitive advantage arising from the ability to grow and utilise large quantities of grazed grass over a long grazing season.

Notwithstanding that, Michael explains that some nutrients are limiting in the dairy cow diet at various times of the year. For example, in the Spring, dry matter intake is low and therefore energy intake can be a limiting factor to milk production for many cows.

Moving into the mid-season, Michael talks about the pre-grazing herbage mass of 1,500 kg DM/ha. He explains it is a balance between quality and quantity, beyond 1,500 kg the fibre of the grass plans increases and becomes less digestible and below 1,500 kg annual grass production declines.

Micheal suggests that where we have a greater understanding, we can target specific concentrate ingredients to balance dairy cow requirements.

Finally, Michael explains a greater understanding of the components of grazed grass offers the ability to improve dairy cow performance, reseed with specific grass variety and reduce environmental footprint.

Episode 51

How do you attract and identify staff for your dairy farm?  On this week’s episode of The Dairy Edge podcast, Paidi Kelly from Teagasc, along with dairy farm owner, Diarmuid Hegarty, and dairy farm operator, Cormac Desmond, joined us to help identify the key characteristics.

Paidi explains the context of hiring staff on farms, arising predominantly from the expansion in the dairy herd - an additional 300,000 cows since 2010. Coupled with this, the availability of labour has reduced significantly.

Diarmuid and Cormac highlighted the key areas of a happy workplace which included good working facilities particularly for the milking process, planning and rosters, which allows for clarity of schedule of work and tasks, plus strong communication to allow good discussion and allow all team members to vocalise suggestions or opinions.

Episode 50

Minimising the workload on your farm this spring

Preparation is key to minimising workload and stress that dairy farmers often experience on farms during the spring period and labour researcher Marion Beecher from Teagasc Moorepark highlights some of the ways that labour demand can be reduced.

Six-week calving rate is increase steadily on dairy farming meaning there are more cows calving in a shorter period of time putting a greater demand on resources such as facilities and labour. 

Practices during the calving season such as once-a-day milking for the month of February, night time feeding, getting cows out to grass, once-a-day feeding of calves from 3 weeks and contracting out tractor work are all practices that will reduce the demand on labour across the spring.

A pre-calving checklist created by Mark Cassidy and Teagasc gives guidelines for a number of jobs to be completed in the months of December and January when the farm is quiet and there is free time. 

The checklist includes tasks to be completed in the calving area, calf shed, milking parlour, grazing, animal health and office work. Simply servicing the milking machine, calving and calf pens are ready, ensuring the calving kit is in place and animal health products are on farm for the start of calving will mean dairy farmers can focus on the care of cows and calves for the calving season.

Episode 49

Tackling emissions on dairy farms

In the face of climate change, the Dairy Edge wanted to find out just what are the environmental implications of dairy farming practices.  We spoke to William Burchill about how to tackle this issue on the farm whilst also achieving higher profitability.

By way of context, William explained what was included in the Paris agreement and what it means for the farming community - Ireland has committed to reducing overall Greenhouse Gas emissions by 30% by the year 2030 relative to base year of 2005.

William talked through the main sources of emissions in the country and several strategies to reduce emission levels on your farm. 

Interestingly, improved management practices such as better soil fertility, improved timing of fertiliser application, extended grazing and superior dairy cow genetics will lead to improved environmental sustainability as well as higher profitability.

Episode 48

Dairy Farm Review of the Year

As we reach the end of the calendar year, we thought it was a good opportunity for the Dairy Edge to take a look at the major events that impacted on the dairy industry across the year of 2018. 

Pat Dillon, Head of Animal & Grassland Research & Innovation and Michael Egan, Grassland Researcher, both from Teagasc Moorepark took us on a journey that started back in January.

Pat reflected on the milk produced in the country this year, with a national figure of 7.6 billion litres, Irish dairy farmers have achieved Food Harvest targets ahead of time.

Looking at the various weather events, which impacted the spring and summer significantly, and while autumn came good, farmers failed to catch up on lost ground earlier in the year. 

Michael Egan explained the effect of the various weather events on grass production and encouraged farmers to take more control over their grassland management decisions and be proactive rather than reactive to variation.

Pat quantified the impact of the year on overall profitability, with net profit declining by 5 cent/litre. For the average farm producing 400,000 litres it is a reduction in income to the tune of €20,000. How do you plan to regain this money in profit next year? 

Pat and Michael finished by discussing their lessons learned from 2018 and suggest some New Year's Resolutions that dairy farmers should consider for the year to come.

Episode 47

The Australian system for managing non-replacement dairy calves

Animal Welfare researcher Natalie Roadknight from the University of Melbourne, gave insight into the dairy industry in Australia and the main animal welfare challenges facing their dairy sector.

Natalie began by explaining that Australia is experiencing a persistent drought which is placing significant pressure on farm in the form of feed availability and costs.

Natalie turned her attention to the welfare of young calves, acknowledging the key management practices for newborn calves with particular emphasis on colostrum.

She also discussed the management of non-replacement dairy calves and the low welfare standards they confer.

Episode 46

The role of sexed semen in Irish dairy herds

Stephen Butler joins us to discuss the role of sexed semen in Irish dairy herds. Stephen gave an insight into the sexed semen trial that took place during the breeding season of 2018.

He explained the differences compared with the 2013 trial including the increase in semen quantity from 2 million to 4 million sperm. Conception rates from sexed straws remain lower than conventional straws, with a relative conception rate of 76% which is similar to previous studies.

Stephen addressed the cost of sexed straws which are double that of conventional, but explained where sexed straws are used, less dairy straws are required so farmers have the opportunity to use cheaper beef straws, meaning the overall cost of straws can remain the same.

Episode 45

Advice for the current grassland situation on farm

John Maher and Fergus Bogue from the Grass10 team join us to examine the current grassland situation on farm. Fergus explains that the average dairy farm on PastureBase has hit an average farm cover of 600kg DM/ha and his advice is to stop grazing immediately!

Fergus explains that it is important to carry grass through the winter for spring gracing and estimates each day at grass will be worth in excess of €3 per cow in the spring.

John Maher recaps on the grass situation for the year, citing that on average, dairy farms grew less than 3 tonnes of grass DM/ha which accounts for almost one cow’s grazed forage diet for the year.

When asked whether some farms have stocked their farms beyond their means John said it is a case by case basis and yes some had.  He explains it's a simple calculation centred around grass production, i.e. Grass growth of 14 tonne DM/ha is required across the whole farm to support a stocking rate of 2.5 cows/ha and where farms are growing less they need to take a critical look at their business.

Episode 44

The key areas to focus on to improve farm profitability in 2019

Dairy Specialist George Ramsbottom takes a look at the key areas that farmers should focus on to improve farm profitability in 2019, based on his analysis of the Profit Monitor. 

Farmers can influence income in the form of milk composition and quality - higher fat and protein constituents and low SCC is worth up to 4-5 c/l, giving additional income of €225 per cow.  George gives a guide as to what some of the main costs should look like. 

Firstly, concentrate should be 3-4c/l or €150-200/cow, practically this means a cow is fed 500-700 kg concentrate. With many farmers, additional concentrate beyond this point is not resulting in any additional profit. Secondly, fertiliser should be 2-3c/kg or €120-150/cow. 

George makes particular reference to use of lime and explained that where pH is correct on farms, the efficiency of other nutrients such as Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium will be improved leading to greater grass production.

He sums up by explaining farmers need to get the basics right - excellent fertility (for both the herd and soils) and focus on grassland, and get cows out early allowing a long lactation from a predominantly grazed grass diet.

Episode 43

This week, Brian Garry discusses the main factors to consider for extending lactation of dairy cows through the winter months. 

Brian considers the feed situation on individual farms and concludes that where there is a feed deficit, extending lactation won’t work. 

Brian recommends high quality silage for lactating cows, in excess of 72 DMD and noted that farmers must feed high levels of supplement with poor quality to maintain milk yield and constituents. 

He also identifies calving date and condition score as important factors, with an emphasis on the importance of an adequate dry period. 

Finally, Brian considers the cost/benefit of milking cows across the winter months and questions if there are financial benefits once feed and additional labour associated with the milking process, housing management and feed formulation, as well as electricity and machinery, is factored in.

Episode 42

The 5 minute cash flow plan to help you through the winter

This week, James McDonnell gives advice on the steps farmers should take to establish the cash flow situation on their farm and address cash deficits where the arise.

James highlights the impact of the many weather events this year on farm finances and the great need to take stock of the current situation. His advice is: act early, be realistic with expected income and expenditure, consult with your advisor and/or accountant and decide on a course of action to get you from now until the spring.

James explains the first step is completing the ‘5-minute cash flow’ (link below), taking into account your bank balance today, expected income in the form of milk sales, cull cow sales and the sale of any surplus young stock on farms end expenditure including living expenses, merchant, vet, contractor, loan repayments and tax.

He explains that establishing where you are will mean you can put a facility in place to get through the lean winter months and emphasises the importance of paying and maintaining a good relationship with key players like the merchant, contractor and vet as you rely on them each year.

Episode 41

Tom O’Dwyer joins us to preview the National Dairy Conference that will take place in on November 27th in Rochestown Park, Cork and 28th in Hudson Bay, Athlone.

Tom explains that the title of this years conference ‘Making Dairy Farming More Sustainable’ will take a holistic view of farm business, exploring the economic, environmental and social sustainability of dairy farm businesses.

There is an opportunity to reflect on the spring and summer of 2018 and the impact the two seasons had on your farm business. A full session will be devoted to the management of the non-replacement dairy calves.

Natalie Roadknight from the University of Melbourne will draw on her experiences of the Bobby calf industry and give opinion on the lessons learned while experts from the Irish industry will put strategies in place as to how we can maximise calf value from an Irish perspective.

In the afternoon, participants can select three of six workshops; varying from grassland, contract rearing to managing workload and making the dairy farm a better place to work.