A total of 4.39 million hectares of the land of the Republic of Ireland is classified as lowland mineral soil while a further 1.47 million hectares of land is classified as mountain and hill land. Approximately one third of the lowland mineral soil category (1.44 million hectares) is classified as wet land. It is estimated that up to one third of Irish milk is produced on either heavy or elevated soils. Inclement weather conditions have the potential to add complexity, cost and risk to the milk produced on such soils.
With this in mind, the organising committee of the Irish Grassland Association invited two milk producers farming on more challenging soils to host this year’s Dairy Summer Tour. The event, kindly sponsored by AIB Bank, will take place on Tuesday 19th July.
Our hosts are:
Sean and Liz O’Riordan farm at Knockenaugh, Kiskeam, Co. Cork. In 2015, the 80 ha farm grazed an average of 95 dairy cows. Overall farm stocking rate was 1.5 LU/ha with the 40 ha milking platform stocked at 2.4 cows/ha. Sean also reared 30 replacement heifers and cut pit silage on the out farms to support the dairy herd. In 2015 milk solids production was 422 kg milk solids per cow (4.21% fat; 3.65% protein). Current herd EBI is €178 (€51 milk SI; €93 fertility SI). Last year cows were housed part-time by 20th October and full-time by 10th November. They spent an average of 274 days in milk last year. The herd was fully dried off by the 15th December. Housing consists of slatted cubicle accommodation for both cows and replacements. The first cow calved on February 5th, the median calving date was February 29th and the 6-week calving rate was 77%. Spring 2016 was wet and cold and cows were turned out to grass full-time on March 10th but spent approximately another week indoors on and off until early April. The first rotation ended on April 28th.
The O’Riordans are participants in Teagasc’s Heavy Soils Programme. The milking platform has been assessed and comprises 0.3-1.0 m of high clay content top and sub soils overlying stony soils on top of shale bedrock. On view at the farm walk will be an improved paddock, drained using a network of shallow (1.1 m deep) gravel-filled drains. To ensure the rain drains through the tightly consolidated top and sub soils to these drains, a subsoiler was used to crack the top and sub soils to improve drainage. Adjacent to the improved paddock is a similar paddock that was reseeded at the same time without drainage. Dr. Pat Tuohy and James O’Loughlin of Teagasc Moorepark will discuss the principles underpinning improvement of more challenging soils at the event.
Sean O’Riordan is also a grassland monitor farmer participating in the cultivar evaluation trials and recording growth rates and dry matter production on PastureBase. Farm grass dry matter production in 2015 was 10.5 t DM/ha on the milking platform during a year when annual rainfall totalled just over 2 metres. Different monocultures have been sown on the farm over the past couple of years. Their performance and his experience of the different varieties will be discussed at the walk.
Conor and Eilisha Creedon farm at Gortnagown, Rathmore, Co. Kerry on an elevated, steeply sloping farm (200-300 m above sea level). The farm comprises 43 ha of owned land in two divisions. The out farm, located approximately 20 km from the milking platform, is used to rear the 18 maiden and 40 weanling replacement heifers. The milking platform is adjusted to 26 ha. The majority of it has been reclaimed over the 1997-2005 period. Underlying 10-30 cm of topsoil, a deep gravelly layer of subsoil provides good drainage once reclaimed. Similar to the O’Riordans, the farm is in a high rainfall area because of the elevated nature and aspect of the farm. It received 1.95 m of rain last year.
Overall farm stocking rate was 2.73 LU/ha in 2015 with the milking platform stocked at 3.73 cows/ha. In 2015 the milk solids yield was 413 kg per cow (4.54% fat; 3.73% protein) from a predominantly Friesian Jersey crossbred herd. Cows spent an average of 288 days in milk last year with 75% of the herd milked through the month of November while grazing by day, to ensure that a long lactation was achieved. Housing consists of slatted cubicle accommodation for both cows and replacements. Meal fed averaged 580 kg per cow in 2015 with over 16 tonnes of grass dry matter grown per hectare on the milking platform. Current herd EBI is €178 (€63 milk SI; €81 fertility SI).
This year, the first cow calved on 11th February, the median calving date was 26th February and the 6-week calving rate was 96%. Cows were turned out to grass part-time from mid-February, housed full-time for a week in early March and turned out again from mid-March. The first rotation ended on 10th April, 250 kg meals have been fed to date per cow and no more will be fed until the autumn if grass growth continues as expected.
Speaking about the low milk price prevailing at the moment Conor said, ‘We’ve done our cash flow budget for this season. It’s tight and while farm production costs are low, when all costs are included we’ll be close to the line but should be fine. I’ll avoid spending money on capital expenditure this year, price around carefully before buying but won’t take a P&K holiday. We did that before and won’t do it again’.
Commenting at the launch of this year’s event, Donal Whelton, Agri Advisor, AIB said, ‘We are delighted to continue our support of the Irish Grassland Association Dairy Summer Tour. This year’s event is a further opportunity for farmers to learn first-hand from two progressive dairy farmers who are farming on more difficult farms. The fundamentals of grass and maintaining efficiencies are key for all farmers, particularly in a period of volatile milk prices’.
Early booking for this event is strongly encouraged as places are limited and the event sold out early for the last four years. A special discounted registration fee of €30 for Irish Grassland Association members and €60 for non-members applies to registrations up to and including Friday 8th July. You can register and avail of these prepaid discounts online at www.irishgrassland.com or at the Irish Grassland Association office at (087)9626483. Registration will take place at the Green Glens Arena, Millstreet, Co. Cork at 8.30am sharp.
Conference Registration fee includes attendance, bus transfers to and from both farms, a copy of the booklet and lunch. Breakfast rolls and tea will also be provided to delegates who arrive before 8.45am.