High-solids autumn milk can still pay well

Milk prices continue to disappoint, and are likely to get worse before they get better.

However, the longer term prospects for dairying have not changed, and are still positive.

The three-year average milk price for 2013, 2014 and 2015 is likely to be better than the next three years, and farmers must be prepared for the well predicted future of milk price volatility.

In the short term, if we get good autumn grazing, a lot of extra milk with good solids can be produced in the autumn without milk quota constraints, and this should make up for some of the effects of poor prices.

But a grass wedge has to be built up, so that good quality grass can be kept in the diet for as long as possible, worth almost €2.50 per cow per day.

This can best be done by lengthening rotations from about 21 days in mid-August to 30 days in early September, to 35 days in late September.

Adequate nitrogen (within your farm’s limits) should be applied as soon as possible, and good facilities for grazing should be provided.

As most soils are deficient in P, K or lime, a high-N compound (and lime) should be used in many situations.

Every extra tonne of autumn grass dry matter utilised is worth around €250, and this could be achieved per hectare on many farms with a little extra effort.

Autumn is the period when grassland should be prepared for early spring grazing, by making sure that pastures are cleaned out well in the final grazing, while avoiding poaching. This should start around mid-October, but the timing will depend on land type, stocking rate etc.

Soil nutrient deficiencies should be corrected, in order to encourage tillering and early spring growth.

In the longer term, most farmers will be targeting extra grass production of 3-5 tonnes per hectare, due to more reseeding and correcting the widespread deficiencies of N, P, K and lime.

Know the fertility of all parts of your farm; this can only be done by having a proper soil sampling programme and nutrient management programme. Teagasc has a special offer on soil sampling at present (six soil samples for the price of five in September), and this should be availed of.

The latest Teagasc data indicate that 60-65% of our soil requires lime to raise pH to the target of 6.3 for pasture or 6.5 for tillage crops.

Lime is a cost effective soil conditioner and is very effective in releasing other nutrients stored naturally in the soil, as well as the applied P and N. In properly limed soils, up to 100 units of N can be released from the huge storage in the soil. Therefore it is critical for every farmer to have a proper liming and fertiliser programme for their entire farm.

One of the best cost saving opportunity for dairy farmers is being able to provide good quality early spring grass. Better roadways and paddock entrances will often enable grazing to start a few weeks early without damaging pastures. Every farmer is aware of the saving from early grazing (but not too early) as well as the better cow health and labour saving benefits.

But the importance of early grass for replacements is often ignored; unless animals are in very good order coming out of the winter feed regime, they may not meet breeding targets for early calving. Heifers on good quality early grass will gain double the weight gain per day, at half the cost of most wintering systems.

Teagasc trials indicate that including adequate clover in pastures can increase pasture output by 2.5 tonnes per hectare, worth over €200 or €6,000 on a 30-hectare grazing platform.

Silage quality is extremely important.

Compared with silage of 69%, silage of 76% will save the cost of 4 kg of concentrates.


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