A high output grass-based spring milk production system can be profitable, UCD professor Finbarr Mulligan said on Thursday while speaking at an Irish Grain and Feed Association (IGFA) conference in Portlaoise, Co Laois.

In order to create a system which is sustainable and profitable, it must be built on a foundation of good grassland management and meet performance targets, Mulligan told the conference.

"Key things are good grassland management, good genetics and also good nutrition," he said.

Mulligan went on to explain how the high output grazing herd on UCD Lyons Farm is performing - a project which has been running since 2016.

The stocking rate on the milking platform is about 3.27 LU/ha, meanwhile the stocking rate on the whole farm for 2024 is 2.07 LU/ha. Mulligan explained how as a result in the changes to the nitrates derogation from 250kg N/ha to 220kg N/ha the stocking rate fell from 2.3 LU/ha to 2.07 LU/ha. However, he said that it may be possible to adopt an all farm stocking rate of 2.2kg N/ha from 2025 by feeding lower protein concentrates.

Project targets

"The target level of output that we chose was 625kg of fat and protein per cow per lactation and generally speaking what the system has produced over the first eight years of its existence is about 40% higher than the national average and about 6% short (586kg of fat and protein) of that target," he said.

A significant emphasis is placed on good grassland management and cows consuming as much fresh grass as they possibly can in this system, Mulligan said.

"We're in a challenging period at the moment with regards to grass growth as many people know which is down to soil moisture deficits and very cold nights of late. On average over the eight years we're growing on average about 12.9t of grass, total herbage utilised is about 11.4kg/ha and 253 days at grass," he said.

Growth of the industry

In order to grow Ireland's dairy industry, cow numbers don't necessarily need to increase, instead a focus needs to be put on models of dairy production that have higher output per individual cow.

"If a dairy farm can be profitable with 120 cows instead of with 150 cows and each cow gets that extra bit of TLC, and maybe the farmer has more time for themselves, is that not a good thing?," Mulligan asked.