The face of dairy farming in Ireland has changed greatly as the enterprise has evolved in recent years, writes Tom Murphy, B&T Dairy Adviser, Teagasc Galway/Clare.
Milk quotas were abolished in 2015 and the 50% production expansion target towards 2020 has already been reached. There is little wonder in this, given that dairy farming is potentially the most profitable farming enterprise in this country.
However, as with growth and development in any business, the modern dairy farmer is challenged with finding solutions to the additional labour requirements brought about by sustained growth.
Efficient labour use on dairy farms is necessary because:
- Sourcing, attracting, employing and retaining suitable additional labour is difficult, and a skill in itself;
- Not all work carried out on some farms is either necessary or affordable;
- Family labour will not slave for the farm as in recent generations;
- The dairy farmer is entitled to time off;
- Time freed up to manage the dairy farm pays ten times the financial return to time spent on most laborious jobs.
The dairy farmer who is unwilling to take the step back, look honestly at the everyday workload and embrace innovative change options can be soon left behind.
When it comes to Health & Safety issues on dairy farms, it is well recognised that the common denominator in the majority of farm accidents are “operator behaviour”.
On dairy farms tiredness, stress and over-work can lead to impaired judgements, carelessness in day to day procedures and compromised long-term health for the farmer.
Many dairy farmers tell me that they have experienced a sense of burn-out due to the apparent endless workload, most notably after a prolonged calving period.
Recent studies related to “Health and Safety” on the dairy farm, point to the need to reduce the prolonged and heavy workload of all who work on the dairy farm.
Many innovative ideas which have been adopted on some farms in recent times have been shown to reduce the risk of accidents and/or improve the health of the operator.
A few key points where change is happening are identified in the following ten key areas of the dairy farm
System of Production and Target Cow Numbers
- Dairy cows and replacement enterprise only;
- Seasonal calving (high fertility sub-index);
- Parlour closed (December/January);
- Grass-based simple system.
- Recent Irish labour studies show that on most efficient dairy herds 11.7 hours work was required per cow per year.
- Milking premises must reflect herd size;
- One unit per 7/8 cows;
- Good cow flow into parlour;
- Correct milking procedure;
- Don’t leave pit – drafting, backing gate, milk dumpline;
- No manual cleaning after milking.
- Keep winter diets simple;
- Feed passages should be accessible;
- Animal movement streamlined;
- Keep animal groups to a minimum.
- Use proven easy calving (CD %) AI bulls;
- Have cows in correct condition at calving;
- Feed silage at night to minimise night calvings;
- Have adequate facilities and prepare in advance.
- Batch feed rather than individual;
- Feed calves once-a-day;
- Rear calves outdoors form 3 weeks of age, provide shelter;
- Adjust sheds so they can be manually cleaned;
- Pump milk from dairy to calf-house.
- Have a fixed 13-week breeding season;
- Drafting facilities essential;
- Use heat detection aids;
- Use easy calving sires;
- Have cows in good body condition at calving;
- Milk record to avoid breeding poor performers.
- Drafting facilities are essential;
- Manual drafting possible, easier in front exit parlour;
- Automated system with management function;
- Basic automated systems, e.g., tail transponder;
- Auto heat/drafting technologies.
- Can somebody else do a job cheaper than you can?
- Have you time to do all jobs on the farm?
- Some contractor costs will be high but will eliminate labour and machinery costs associated with the job;
- Examine all jobs for contracting, especially the major ones.
Access to Grassland
- All paddocks must be serviced with road network;
- Roadway must have smooth surface;
- Roadway must be contoured to take water away;
- Have appropriate road width;
- No tight angles;
- Repair road system once / year (surface & slope).
- Target 300 days grazing each year;
- Have a paddock map, showings numbers and road system;
- Keep grazing groups to a minimum;
- Use spring rotation planner;
- Manual grass wedge used in summer;
- Contractor – fencing, fertiliser.
Need for change
Dairy farmers working closely with the Teagasc Advisory Services as members of a Dairy (Business) Discussion Group meet monthly for a 2-hour updating meeting on one another’s farm and are familiar with some or all of these options, and many more besides.
Adopting the change on the home farm takes positivity and courage, but it has brought great rewards.
Farm profitability has improved and time is being freed up for family and other interests.
Health and safety-wise, it is not acceptable to ignore the studies pointing to the need for change.
Perhaps, there is one key point of change, which would fit on your farm, and make your farming safer, more profitable and more enjoyable in the future.
Written by Tom Murphy, B&T Dairy Adviser, Teagasc Galway/Clare.