Combatting low milk prices

Cavan Johnston with Brian McCarron and Ervin McKinstry, Genus ABS, ahead of the Genus ABS Farm Walk on  his farm at Strangford, Co Down on Thursday 16th June. Photograph: Columba O'Hare

Cavan Johnston with Brian McCarron and Ervin McKinstry, Genus ABS, ahead of the Genus ABS Farm Walk on his farm at Strangford, Co Down on Thursday 16th June. Photograph: Columba O'Hare

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For many months, dairy farmers have spent hours trying to work out management systems that will help to cut costs and make their enterprise more efficient.

It is not an easy task but to assist them, Genus ABS has organised an Open Day which highlights how fertility, genetics and grassland management can play a role in increasing profit margins.

Ervin McKinstry, Ireland Manager with Genus ABS emphasises that there is no quick fix and with no immediate sign of an improvement in milk prices, farmers need to consider all options to help sustain their business.

Fertility is one area where there is large scope for improvement in dairy farming in Northern Ireland. Huw Lloyd, Director of Genus Technical Services, who is one of the speakers at the Open Day, points out that dairy farmers are totally focused on milk price, but they could improve their situation by taking a closer look at fertility.

For example, do they know the pregnancy rate on the farm? Do they realise that an increase in that figure could have a significant beneficial impact on the overall profitability of their enterprise.

Unfortunately some farmers do not know this figure and do not have an analysis of their herd records which would provide this data. They are losing out on a golden opportunity to increase their income according to Huw. He points out that the average calving interval in Northern Ireland herds is 428 days which equates to a pregnancy rate of 12%. Each 1% increase in pregnancy rate is equivalent to £20/cow/year. If Northern Ireland could even increase this pregnancy rate by a modest 4% to 16% it would mean an extra £80/cow/year, which in the average Northern Ireland 100 cow herd would be £8000.

Another speaker, Andrew Rutter, European Sire Analyst with Genus ABS will stress the importance of matching genetics to the dairy system. He said: “Why not consider crossbreeding to improve fertility? The Friesian is the most fertile breed in the world and is also noted for its lifespan. In addition the Friesian will produce a valuable bull calf from Holstein cows and is ideal for maximising returns from grassland.”

Andrew goes on to point out that no matter what breed or type of cow, the farmer’s aims, herd production and breeding details should all be taken into account and sires selected to match that individual system.

Increasing milk production from forage has been a constant topic in the present economic climate.

Conail Keown from DAERA will explain the importance of producing milk from forage, both grazed grass and silage. Conail will emphasise what we can do now to maximise milk production from grass over the summer months. This will include a demonstration on how to measure grass using a plate meter, discussing the importance of soil fertility and managing grazing rotations to allow farmers to best utilise their swards.

The Open Day takes place at Cavan Johnston’s farm, 50 Blackcauseway Road. Strangford, Co.Down BT30 7AP and will commence at 12 noon.