Sustainability at the heart of milk-recording bonus for dairy farmers

The bonus scheme was one of the recent Cogeca European Award for Co-operative Innovation finalists
Sustainability at the heart of milk-recording bonus for dairy farmers

Milk recording allows easy identification of superior cows to breed replacements from and allows tracking the SCC of each cow. File picture: Larry Cummins

Since 2019, there has been a 30% increase in the number of Dairygold Co-op milk suppliers who milk record, and a 115% increase in the number participating in a Herd Health programme.

These farmers have helped to achieve a 15.7% increase in average herd EBI, a 2.8% increase in milk solids, a Dairygold dairy herds replacement rate reduction of 6.8%, an 8.8% reduction in somatic cell count (SCC), a 2.4% improvement in milk quality and a 5.5% reduction in carbon emissions per litre of milk. 

This leaves the current average Dairygold carbon footprint figure for its milk suppliers at 1.1kg of carbon dioxide equivalent per kg of fat and protein corrected milk.

Much of the progress is attributed to the co-op’s Sustainability Bonus, which offers attractive financial incentives for participants in milk recording or herd health programmes, or both.

The bonus scheme was one of the recent Cogeca European Award for Co-operative Innovation finalists.

It was introduced in 2019 to reduce losses associated with poor animal health, maximise milk solids per cow and to make the milk production base more sustainable.

Sustainability

It followed the achievement of 100% certification in the Bord Bia Sustainable Dairy Assurance Scheme. The board of Dairygold was very conscious of antimicrobial resistance and sustainability requirements, targeted by the Bonus Programme, which is run in conjunction with Dairygold's Munster Bovine business partner.

In 2018, 43% of Dairygold’s primary suppliers were already milk recording. Milk recording herds produced, on average, 50kg more solids per cow per year, potentially worth €23,650 per annum for a 100-cow herd.

The new scheme offered a bonus of 0.1 cent per litre for milk recording. This is equivalent for many herds to at least half of the cost of milk recording being subsidised. Suppliers were given the option of having a technician take milk samples, or doing sampling themselves. At least four milk recordings is required to qualify for the bonus.

Milk recording allows easy identification of superior cows to breed replacements from and allows tracking the SCC of each cow. Reducing SCC from 200,000 to 120,000 increases profit per cow by €85.

The bonus programme also incentivised suppliers to participate in disease testing and control programmes, with a payment of 0.05 c/litre, regardless of which herd health programme a supplier opted for. This bonus reimbursed almost entirely the cost of the most basic programmes.

Suppliers could choose a programme to match their disease control needs, their knowledge level, and their budget. Four bulk milk samples are taken and tested automatically for diseases such as BVD, IBR, Johne’s, leptospirosis, and liver fluke.

Herd health programmes include expert advice on what to vaccinate for. Support by specialist advisors is delivered online, over the phone, or in annual face-to-face herd performance reviews.

Personnel with specialist technical knowledge were employed to support both programmes and to advise on how best to utilise milk recording and herd health information.

Change in veterinary medicine regulations

The programmes were designed to help Dairygold farmers prepare for the January 2022 change in veterinary medicine regulations, whereby herd owners can no longer use antibiotics for prevention of disease. 

This means blanket treating all cows at drying off is no longer allowed. a big change in herd management and disease control, which could lead to disease outbreaks on farms if mismanaged.

Milk recording allows the identification of cows needing selective dry cow therapy, and of cows that can successfully be dried off without antibiotics. 

Recording can also increase prices for in-calf heifers and dairy heifer calves, backed up by production figures. Higher compensation is available for any milk recorded cows culled as a result of a TB outbreak.

The sustainability bonus programme has had a beneficial effect on many financial and sustainability factors in the Dairygold supply chain, including processing gains such as increased yields of cheddar and casein. 

It is expected the benefits will increase dramatically as more herds join the programmes, which will be essential to help suppliers cope with the expected reduced usage of antibiotics in the future.

The co-op says improved sustainability is a key factor in the purchasing decisions of the global food companies that Dairygold supplies with products from its 1.4bn litres of milk per year.

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