All cows on Frank Goodman’s farm near Carrickmacross, Co Monaghan, are settled into a full spring-calving system. In previous years, the herd had a split-calving profile, with 20% of cows calving down in the autumn.

Frank has also expanded herd size, with 110 cows going through the parlour at present, compared with 90 last year.

He has purchased a zero-grazing machine, which should allow him to utilise grass from outfarms and carry the extra cows.

The plan is to let cows graze conventionally during the day and then house them and feed zero-grazed grass by night.

Despite having a dispersed farm layout, the overall aim is to utilise more home-grown feed for milk production.

A recent review of the farm’s performance in the 2020 calendar year with Dairylink Ireland adviser Aidan Cushnahan showed good results from grazed grass and silage to date.

The Monaghan man has the lowest concentrate feed rate across all phase two Dairylink farms, with last year’s figure at 0.21kg/l. This stems from 6,799l coming from 1.42t of concentrates.

Frank also feeds maize silage to freshly calved cows when they are housed in the spring and as a buffer feed in the first few weeks after turnout.

This use of homegrown forage helps reduce the need for extra concentrate as cows settle into lactation.

As Table 1 shows, the headline figures from last year are similar to 2019, with milk yields and concentrate feed levels back marginally.

There were some differences during the year. For example, from March to October, average milk from forage increased from 13.3l/cow/day in 2019 to 16.5l/cow/day last year. Aidan calculates that had feed rates remained the same as 2019 levels during this period, an extra 25t of concentrate would have been purchased at a cost of around €6,700 to maintain production levels in 2020.

The lift in milk yields and milk from forage was helped by the changing calving pattern, as fewer cows were going stale last summer.

But there were challenges too, particularly in May and early June when dry conditions severely restricted grass growth rates and affected milk yields.

Grass growth rates went as low as 19kg DM/ha/day on the Goodman farm last May, which compares to typical rates of 90kg to 100kg DM/ha/day for this time of year.

Frank and Aidan feel that overall average milk yields from March to October of 25.9l/cow/day would have been higher if it were not for the dry spell at peak milk.

Milk solids remains an issue on the farm and while average protein levels increased last year to 3.42%, butterfat fell to 3.99%.

Figure 1 shows that butterfat tended to be lower during all months throughout the year.

This would suggest the issue comes down to genetics, rather than nutrition.

Frank is being encouraged to review his breeding strategy and use sires that will deliver improvements in butterfat levels, although a review of the feed plan for the year is being undertaken too.

Reviewing costs and setting new targets

Key working expenses for the Goodman farm are outlined in Table 2.

Dairy feed costs remained low in both years in line with feed rates and less fertiliser was spread late in 2020, which led to a fall in forage costs.

Higher veterinary costs were partly down to increased stock numbers and Frank also made more use of vaccines last year.

For example, IBR vaccination was added to the herd health plan and the cost should be much less than the potential costs associated with a pneumonia outbreak in youngstock.

A reduction in contractor costs led to a fall in machinery running/contractor costs in 2020.

Targets for 2021 were reviewed in light of performance in 2020 and include an average milk yield of 7,200l from under 1.6t of concentrates.

Frank is confident that provided adequate grass supplies are available, it should be possible to increase yields and further lift milk protein levels to 3.47%, while maintaining a high level of feed efficiency.

Although butterfat production did not meet initial expectations last year, it is hoped the review of factors potentially affecting butterfat levels will identify opportunities to reach the 2021 target of 4.05%.

Weekly round-up

  • First-cut silage has been ensiled on some Dairylink Ireland farms over the past week.
  • Colder than normal temperatures are still holding grass growth rates back on most farms.
  • To combat this, cows are being buffer fed on some farms and have been temporarily housed on others.