Those attending Dairy Day last week heard Bernard Condon from Ornua predict that base milk prices would be around 40c/l including VAT in 2024. The Teagasc situation and outlook report is predicting a higher base milk price of about 43c/l including VAT.
Timing of price rises is key, as the price received for the peak months really sets the scene for the year. Taking the national milk supply profile and just looking at the Tirlán base price including VAT, the weighted average milk price for 2023 will be 35.4c/l.
This presumes no change in milk price for November and December milk. The worrying thing is that Teagasc is predicting that total costs will only fall by 2% in 2024 compared to 2023.
If this comes true, by the end of next year we will have gone through three years of unsustainably high costs. See more from Dairy Day on pages 32 and 33.
Dry weather over the last week or so has seen herds return to the fields on many farms. While it is great to see cows out in late November, there is a word of caution advised.
Firstly, farmers need to have walked their farms and have a grass cover and a grass budget complete in order to make an informed decision on how much area to graze now, if any.
Secondly, growth rates have been lower than normal, even though soil temperatures are higher than normal.
This means there is less grass on farms than many might expect, even if cows have been housed earlier than normal. The third point is to compare the value of grass now versus next spring. There is really no comparison, and if ground is dry enough to be grazed now, then the chances are it will still be dry enough to be grazed in February or March.
Any fields grazed now are unlikely to be grazed again until early April, which is a long time to wait. Unless it was a very high cover with a high clover content, I would be inclined to carry over whatever grass is present to next spring.
Having sufficient feed space for cows has been identified as a key area for preventing bullying, gaining body condition score, preventing lameness and ensuring good overall cow health. Where cows are being fed silage ad libitum (there is always silage in front of them), then 30cm or 1ft of feed space is required per cow.
Where this is met, not all cows will be able to feed at the one time, but this is not a concern as there is always silage available to be eaten.
However, there are three reasons why feeding silage ad lib may not be wise this winter.
Firstly, most cows seem to be in fairly good body condition score. Secondly, silage quality is very good on many farms and thirdly, silage is likely to be scarce on many farms.
Allocating 11kg or 12kg DM of good quality silage per cow per day to cows in good BCS is sufficient for most cows. However, where silage is restricted there must be enough feed space for all cows to eat at the one time.
The recommendations in this case is to have 60cm or 2ft per cow, but some farmers prefer to have more than this so all cows can feed at the one time.