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Episode 80

Kevin McDonald is a retired scientist from Dairy NZ with over 50 years’ experience in systems research and he joins Emma-Louise Coffey on this week’s Dairy Edge podcast to give his insights and analysis of the New Zealand dairy sector along with key learnings for Irish farmers. 

Kevin traces the evolution of the New Zealand dairy sector back to the 1930s and 1940s but says the big change came in the mid 1990s when big dairy farms expanded into the South Island.

Smaller farms were traditionally in the North Island while the South Island farms that have come into dairying in the last 20 years were traditionally from much bigger sheep farms.  Cow numbers increased from 3 million to 5 million cows, though irrigation has been the main challenge, for farmers in the South Island especially.

Kevin also discusses other issues and challenges for farmers in New Zealand from labour to farm size and points out that, in contrast to Ireland’s more traditional farmers, they are more willing to change, buy new farms and move on.

Episode 79

Grassland researcher Brian McCarthy and PhD researcher Brid McClearn join Emma-Louise Coffey to discuss the benefits of white clover inclusion at Clonakilty Agricultural College.

The grass plus white clover treatment grew 1.2 tonnes more grass compared with the grass only sward. Clover content varied from 36% in year 1 to 14% in year 4, which is a driver of grass production and fed quality.

Cows in the grass plus white clover treatment produced 50 kg milk solids compared with grass only treatment. Brid explains this occurs due to increased intake and greater forage quality.

Brian gives his management tips for managing clover in swards emphasising the importance of prevention rather than treatment. 

Furthermore, bloat oil during dry weather and small allocations at the start of grazing cycle to avoid gorging in wet weather.

Notwithstanding increasing costs of the grass plus clover swards including feed in spring, labour associated with supplementary feeding and fencing, machinery expenses and treatment with bloat oil, there was an additional €305 with the inclusion of white clover 

For more information: Clonakilty Update: The effect of perennial ryegrass ploidy and white clover inclusion on animal, sward and farm economic performance (PDF)

Episode 78

Milk quality expert, David Gleeson, joins Emma-Louise Coffey to discuss the move to chlorine-free cleaning products on Irish dairy farms.

David explains that while chlorine levels measured in the form of TCM and chlorides are low currently in Irish dairy products, the use of chlorine will be eliminated for cleaning on farm and in processing plants.

Teagasc have developed alternative cleaning protocols to chlorine-based products and encourages farmers to consult with their milk quality advisor and Teagasc advisor to select the most suitable protocol for their farm. 

David acknowledges that alternative protocols will require more hot water and acid leading to higher costs cleaning routines.

For more information on milking routines: Non-chlorine cleaning of milking equipment (PDF)

Bonus Episode

Fergus Bogue of the Grass10 Team spoke to Emma-Louise Coffey from the Grass Demo at Teagasc's recent Open Day at Moorepark to discuss grass quality and stem levels on Irish farms. 

Fergus also explained what the Grass Demo was about and how farmers would get to see what kind of covers their cows should be grazing and what they graze down to.  

For more information: Grass10

Episode 77

Management Consultant Nollaig Heffernan joins Emma-Louise Coffey to emphasise the importance of planning around decision making for your farm.

Nollaig explains that good planning and decision making will help achieve your personal goals, leads to more profitability on farm investment and makes your farm a more attractive place to work for family and employees.

Nollaig introduces a LEAN tool, the PICK Model, to help with decision making. The PICK Model considers the Return on Investment and the Level of Difficulty for any task or project you are considering for your farm. Are you willing to invest your time and your money in these tasks/projects?

Ideally all decisions will lead to high return and require low difficulty. Often there are projects that are either low return or high difficulty. Nollaig explains that we must look at these situations and identify how we can improve the circumstances.

Episode 76

Economist Ciaran Fitzgerald joins Emma-Louise Coffey to discuss how dairy expansion has impacted the Irish economy.

Ciaran recounts commonly reported expansion figures such as milk output and value of exports but takes a more in depth look at the economic impact on the Irish economy and in particular on rural Ireland.

Over 60,000 people are employed in dairy industry, including 19,000 employed directly on dairy farms.

Interestingly, Ciaran looked at the money spent in the Irish Economy relative to the value of exports for specific industries. For each €1 in exports of Irish dairy products, a huge €0.91 is spent in the Irish economy. This compared with just €0.10 for multinational exports and €0.60 for Irish indigenous companies.

Ciaran acknowledges the increasing value of Irish milk due to high value product profile including infant formula and sports nutrition changing from traditional focus such as cheddar cheese.

He also maintains that the Irish dairy industry will continue to target such value added markets which will somewhat mitigate the effects of BREXIT on the Irish dairy industry.

Episode 75

William Burchill joins Emma-Louise Coffey to discuss new cost-effective methods of slurry spreading.

William reminds us of the value of slurry, which is the equivalent to 6 units of Nitrogen, 5 units of Phosphorus and 30 units of Potassium.

Interestingly, slurry from dairy cows, that is often mixed with dairy washings from collecting yards are diluted and offer the half rate of Phosphorus and Potassium.

Explaining the reasons behind new slurry spreading methods, the context is in our aims to reduce both Greenhouse Gas and Ammonia emissions. Benefits to the farmer includes reducing environmental footprint, reduced contamination of grass, greater nutrient availability and flexibility in what paddocks where slurry can be spread.

Use of contractors with low emission slurry tanks is more expensive in the region of €10-25/hr while the purchase of a low emission slurry tank can be €13,000-15,000 more expensive compared with conventional slurry tanks.

William is confident however, that effective use of low emission methods will compensate for additional costs.

Episode 74

Moorepark researchers Brendan Horan and Laurence Shalloo join Emma-Louise Coffey to critically review the growth and expansion of the national dairy herd.

Brendan addressed the environmental impact of expansion highlighting the benefit of grass-based systems and explains the low environment footprint relative to both European and international milk producing competitors. The net environmental footprint of the dairy industry has increased while the output per unit milk has reduced.

Looking at the target net profit of €2,500 per ha, Laurence explains there is a roadmap set out with targets in all aspects of the dairy business to achieve this; farmers must get the basics right, grass utilisation and 6 week calving rate are key drivers of profitability in a simple grass-based system. The top 10% of dairy farmers in the country are averaging €2,200 per ha while the average farmer is averaging €1,200 per ha over a number of years.

He also reviews the debt levels on Irish dairy farms, explaining that at €900 per cow, we are very lowly borrowed in comparison with other countries, despite €1.5 billion euro of investment in recent years. 

Both Brendan and Laurence acknowledge the remarkable achievements of dairy farmers, creating a prosperous €4 billion industry.

Episode 73

Grassland researcher Deirdre Hennessy joins Emma-Louise Coffey to discuss the inclusion of white clover in grazing swards.

Deirdre gives an overview of the benefits and challenges of white clover in intensive grass-based systems of milk production.

She explains the ability of white clover to fix Nitrogen - in a systems study, Nitrogen was reduced by 100 kg Nitrogen/ha with no reduction in grass production in grass + white clover swards compared with grass only swards.

Furthermore, improved animal performance is evident with an increase of 33 kg MS per cow observed in grass + white clover swards compared with grass only swards. This is driven by clover being a higher quality feed and cows achieving higher intake.

When considering the challenges of white clover inclusion, Deirdre explains the primary concerns for dairy farms include bloat and low spring growth. Deirdre lists strategies to reduce the risk of bloat including vigilant grassland management and use of bloat oil.

Spring growth is a greater challenge with white clover growing from 8®C compared with grass growing from 5 ®C. To overcome this, a budget of 1 high quality bale per cow for the 1st grazing rotation.

For more information: Managing grass-clover swards in an intensive grass based system (PDF)

Episode 72

Agricultural Economist Emma Dillon joins Emma-Louise Coffey with the results of the Teagasc National Farm Survey highlighting that although incomes declines by 30% in 2018 compared with 2017, incomes remained substantial at €61,000. 

Emma explains there were many factors at play, namely 2017 dairy income being at a record high, high production costs in 2018 including additional feed and workload.

She compared the dairy sector with other farming enterprises and explains that the dairy sector remains dominant. Dairy farmers continue to make the most profit, accounting for 17% of farms included in the national farm survey but 50% of the total income. Furthermore, dairy farmers have a low reliance on direct payments, accounting for 34% of total income in 2018.

Episode 71

Micheal O’Leary from PastureBase Ireland and Grassland Researcher Elodie Ruelle join Emma-Louise Coffey to discuss the current grassland situation on farm and look at future growth rate predictions.

Micheal starts by explaining the current grassland situation, including high growth rates of on average 77 kg DM/ha exceeding farm demand of 60 kg DM/ha. The additional feed is driving farm cover/cow to over 200 kg DM/ha, compared with target of 160-180 kg DM/ha.  

The considerable amount of rain that has fallen in recent days combined with predictions of continued high growth re-assures Micheal that farmers can be proactive in removing heavy covers to prevent a reduction in milk production.

Micheal's tips are:

  1. Graze maximum cover of 1,500 kg DM/ha
  2. Measure twice weekly during peak grass growth and remove heavy paddocks (Spread soiled water or compound fertiliser after spreading)
  3. Target farm cover of 160-180 kg DM/ha and an 18-21 day rotation

Elodie Ruelle explains the model that she has created for grass growth which accounts for weather conditions (past and predicted), soil type, Nitrogen levels and Biomass. The grass growth predictions are made across 40 farms in Ireland. Accuracy is high as the farms are measuring at least weekly and recording Nitrogen usage on a weekly basis. Elodie's predications appear in the weekly Grass 10 bulletin.

Finally, Micheal reflects on Grassland for 2019 reporting the excellent year to date including at least 1 additional grazing across farms on PastureBase Ireland this year compared with 2018 with production up 1 tonne/ha.

Episode 70

Pat Dillon, Teagasc's Head of Animal and Grassland Programme, joins Emma-Louise Coffey to preview the topics and speakers at this year's Moorepark ’19, the Teagasc National Dairy Event for 2019, on Wednesday 3rd July at the Teagasc, Animal & Grassland Research and Innovation Centre, Moorepark, Fermoy, Co. Cork from 0830-1700.

The theme of this year’s event is ‘Growing Sustainably’. The continuing expansion of the Irish dairy industry provides opportunities to increase the profitability of family farms, while also further developing climate smart dairy farming systems. Future expansion will require close alignment of national agricultural and environmental targets, with a particular focus on carbon emissions, water and air quality, and biodiversity.

Episode 69

Animal Health expert Muireann Conneely joins Emma-Louise Coffey to discuss hoof health and the mobility of the national dairy herd.

Muireann makes reference to an ongoing trial where an average of 14% of the dairy herds examined have sub optimal hoof health.

Poor mobility and lameness causes stress and pain to cows as well as reduced milk production and overall farm profit. Milk yield is affected for up to 8 weeks prior to a dairy cow showing clinical signs of lameness. 

In order to prevent poor mobility and clinical lameness farmers should score cow mobility regularly, ensure roadways are in good condition and treat for lameness early.

Episode 68

For part two of our conversation with Micheal O’Donovan and Tomas Tubritt, they talk us through the reseeding process step by step.

Micheal explains the starting point is to identify the paddock or farm area that you intend on reseeding. 

When considering the methods of reseeding, Tomas explains there is no difference between individual methods, but the common methods in Ireland include ploughing, minimum cultivation, discing and stitching in.

In terms of fertiliser strategy, Michael advises anyone who is ploughing to complete a soil test once the soil is inverted. Standard fertiliser is 3/4 bags of 10-10-20 and 2 tonne lime per acre. 

When selecting seed, Tomas explains farmers need to select on quality, seasonal growth (spring and autumn) and heading date within 3-5 days of each other. 

Tomas also mentioned a new trait that is being investigated as part of his PhD research is grazing efficiency. This trait tends to favour tetraploid varieties due to their nature of higher leaf area and digestibility. 

Micheal recommends spraying with post emergent spray when the paddock is at a cover of 200-300 kg DM/ha and grazing at s cover of 700-1000 kg DM/ha. 

He explains that getting in at this light cover might mean that stock will only get 2/3 hours grazing in the paddock. He advises that the paddock is hit again in 14-15 days time. This management will lead to a successful reseed encouraging active growth and tillering.

For more information: Pocket Manual for Reseeding (PDF)


Episode 67

Head of Grassland Science Michael O’Donovan and Grassland PhD researcher Tomas Tubritt are this week's guests on the Dairy Edge podcast to discuss the topic of reseeding.

Firstly, Michael talks through the benefits of reseeding, primarily transforming swards from partial perennial ryegrass swards to 100% perennial ryegrass swards leading to higher levels of grass production, improved quality and graze outs while renewed swards will also respond greater to fertiliser. 

Michael explains that reseeding costs €750/ha which is a significant investment but also the return on investment is recouped in 18th months. Furthermore, he explains the first 11 months are crucial to the success of reseeded swards.

Tomas sets a target of 8% of the farm annually which means each paddock should be grazed every 14/15 years. Tomas explains that the new varieties being introduced to the Pasture Profit Index will out-compete older varieties.

In order to identify paddocks for reseeding, Michael explains that ideally farmers will make an informed decision based on grass measurement and knowledge of poorest performing paddocks but where these records are unavailable farmers should be filling in the Teagasc Grass 10 Grazing Charts which identifies the number of grazings, the paddock that achieves the least grazings need to be reseeded.

For more information: Pocket Manual for Reseeding (PDF)

Episode 66

Dairy farmer Mike Bermingham joins Emma-Louise Coffey to take us on his journey of career change from construction and part-time beef farming to becoming a new entrant dairy farmer in 2013.

Mike returned home to farm full-time in 2009 and acknowledged he had a big asset in his farm of land, yet it was providing no income.

In 2010 he began grass measuring in order to quantify the amount of grass grown on the farm. This has allowed Mike to get a good handle on the level of grass grown on the farm and identify underperforming paddocks. Mike is consistently growing 14 tonnes DM with the exception of 2018 which was 11.5 tonnes DM. Soil fertility is optimum for pH, P and K.

When considering what else he did prior to milking to put him in the best position for success, Mike said he joined a really good discussion group and also credits the Greenfield farm in Kilkenny and the Shinagh farm for demonstrating start ups, what works and what doesn't work.

Looking back at the progress over the last 10 years, Mike is hitting all of the dairy KPIs; fat and protein %, 6 week calving rate, grass utilised. 

Passing on his wisdom to others considering dairy, Mike explains that farmers must start with the basics, the parlour, cubicles, roads and water.  Additionally, surround yourself with good people, get help making a 5-year plan, identify a mentor and make sure you are in a good discussion group.

Episode 65

The ICBF's Andrew Cromie and Siobhan Ring join the Dairy Edge podcast this week to discuss the new Dairy Beef Index (DBI). 

Firstly Andrew explains the DBI is a breeding index that will promote high quality beef cattle from the dairy herd with minimal consequences to calving difficulty and gestation length in dairy cows.

Siobhan explains that the DBI has a role in dairy herds after breeding for replacements using the EBI. She also explains the ranking of bulls within the DBI as it ranks beef bulls for use in the dairy herd for calving and carcass traits.

Finally, Andrew explains the DBI has an important role to play in the Irish agricultural industry, creating a calf that is saleable for dairy farmers and of value to beef farmers in terms of carcass quality. Furthermore, Andrew explains we must protect our dairy industry and avoid bobby calf industries that are in operation in other countries.

Episode 64

Dairy specialist Stuart Childs joins Emma-Louise Coffey to explain the various steps to optimise breeding performance for your farm. 

Stuart identifies 3-week submission rate as the most important KPI for farmers to target. 

He considers the length of time to mating start date which is anywhere between 10 and 20 days away. Stuart recommends tail painting the whole herd and addressing cows who fail to cycle. 

Many farmers have changed the calving date on their farms following the difficult spring in 2018.  While 2018 presented a particularly difficult spring, Stuart recommends farmers don't make a dramatic change to their normal calving start date based on one year!

Stuart also discussed all the heat detection aids available from visual observation to tail paint, scratch cards, teaser bulls to the more recent technology aids, explaining that all heat detection aids work but if they aren't hitting targets, he recommends you look to the cow and also the detection method to see how you can improve. 

Finally, Stuart reminds us of synchronisation protocols that can be used routinely for heifers and anoestrus cows and he reminds us to be very clear on the protocol to ensure each step is taken at the correct time.

Episode 63

In part 2 of our interview with John McNamara, we find out about the grassland management on John's dairy farm.

John explains that the grazing season starts in August of the previous year. He starts extending his grazing rotation and building farm cover in August, hitting peak farm cover in later September and closing the farm from at an appropriate cover to carry grass into the spring.

He explains that the farm is heavy meaning the shoulder periods of the grazing season can be a challenge. John accepts this challenge each year by employing all the grazing technologies such as on/off grazing and back fencing.

When considering KPIs for grazing, John thinks figures like 10 grazings per paddock are really important for him and believes if you can get off to a good start during the spring rotation, you are on the right track.

Turning our attention to the Grass 10 open day on his farm in Knockainey on April 24th, John welcomes all farmers and their families to the event. On the day, we can expect to get an insight to excellence in grassland on the McNamara family farm.

Episode 62

2018 Grass 10 champion John McNamara joins Emma-Louise Coffey to talk through his farming career and some of the people who have helped him along the way.

John explains that the farm has been in the McNamara family for three generations and he considers the changes that have taken place over the last 20 years since he returned home farming. 

At that time the McNamaras were milking between 50-60 cows on a 25 ha platform. John and his wife Olive now milk 250 cows on a land base of 116 ha. John explains that expansion happened on the basis of the ability to grow grass as the main source of feed.

The McNamaras won Farmyard of the Year in 2009, 40 years on from his father winning a similar competition that recognises farms general neatness and work organisation. John explains that his parents instilled a strong work ethic as well as pride of place in their farm as divers that saw them being recognised on both occasions.

John’s community spirit is evident throughout his farming career being involved in Macra and with his local community, and in particular the GAA.   He highlights the importance of work, life balance having an outlet away from the farm. John believes dairy farming is a socially and financially rewarding career and offers a great way of life for farmers and their families.

Episode 61

Kevin Downing from ICBF joins us this week to with his top tips for sire selection for the upcoming breeding season.

He suggests key traits to consider are high EBI cows with early calving date. For sire selection whether using daughter proven or genomically selected sires, farmers should select high EBI bulls with high sub-indices for areas of importance for herd.

Higher EBI offspring will produce more profit with each €1 additional EBI = €2 additional profit.

Kevin explains the recommendation around the number of bulls has increased with a recommendation for up to 8 bulls for a 100-150 cow herd.  He considers the number of straws required to produce sufficient replacements, estimating on average 4 straws are used to produce 1 heifer.

Finally, Kevin recommends that we focus on the heifers in the herd as they are typically genetically elite compared with the cows in the herd. Focus should be on heifers calving down between 22-26 months as they will last longer in the herd and produce milk solids across their lifetime.