The stocking rate on many farms is too high for the amount of grass they can grow and utilise, and is not sustainable in difficult weather conditions.
Proponents of low yields per cow say they have high output per hectare, due to high stocking rates — but it does not pay to be carrying 25% more cows than is necessary to fill the quota efficiently.
Every surplus cow costs money. In preparation for post-quota milk production, many farmers are keeping far too many cows for available quota, costing them dearly in terms of short lactations, low yields, infertility and insufficient winter feed.
This type of farming prevents many farmers from exploiting the genetic improvements in our dairy stock.
In the past decade, general advice suggested dairy farmers would not be competitive unless they had high stocking rates. Rates of 2.9 cows/ha on dry land were classed as medium, while insufficient allowance was made for difficult and wet land.
Nor was there sufficient emphasis on basing stocking rates on the amount of grass that farms can grow or utilise, or on land type. Indeed, we were often told that the difference in land type was very often in the minds of farmers.
Farmers should choose a stocking rate suitable for their own farms, based on the amount of grass they’re likely to be able to grow and utilise. They should make every effort to apply adequate fertiliser and carry out sufficient reseeding, which is normally c.10% per year, though probably more at present due to pasture damage. Studies have shown that the main factor reducing grass growth is deficiency of fertiliser or lime, and insufficient reseeding.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved