Moorepark Open Day 2017
Back in July, part of the Grasslands team made the trip across the Irish Sea to the town of Fermoy in County Cork, Ireland. We were there to attend a brilliant open day at the Moorepark Research Centre for Agriculture. On a previous visit to the Moorepark site we learnt about the cutting edge, innovative work they are doing, as well as viewing all their technological developments. This year, the theme was ‘Resilient Technologies’.
In an uncertain period for the dairy farming industry, this open day looked to provide reassurance by introducing us all to new technologies. Described as being more technically and financially efficient, these technologies should help to generate surplus cash and improve consistency, as well as remain simple to operate. The developments discussed primarily focused on ‘the efficient production and utilisation of pasture and use of high EBI genetics in sustainable compact spring calving systems of milk production.’
Outlined below are some of the lessons we learnt regarding developments in soil, cows and people.
To help us achieve grass yields of 14tdm and above, it is vital that Grasslands achieve the correct soil pH. Our target should be 6.5 pH to allow for both the gradual effect of liming and the subsequent gradual effect of the loss of lime, after the target is achieved. Ideally, we should be looking to apply lime every five years. Additionally, we learnt that nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) fertilisers are most efficient when the grass is no lower than 6.2 pH.
Part of the discussion focused heavily on the role that medium leaf clover can play on dairy farms. Crucially, we should not attempt to sow clover until the soil pH is above 6.3. If we can establish clover evenly over some of the Grasslands farms, there is an opportunity for us to grow more forage, produce more milk, feed less corn and use reduced amounts of fertiliser in the peak growing period of the year. Research seems to suggest that we can grow similar Tdm/ha using grass/clover lay with 150kg/ N applied during the growing season as we would with a grass/clover lay receiving 250kg/N per year and grass only receiving 250kg/N. This could enable Grasslands to reduce the amounts of artificial N needed to be purchased.
The research pointed to grass/ clover lays potentially gaining us an extra 1ltr/day in milk. The higher Tdm grown with higher clover density lays would then be taken as surplus and baled or clamped in May, June and July before being fed back at shoulders of the season. Put simply, would we rather have higher growth rates in the shoulders of the year i.e. early spring and Autumn with grass only lays, than a grass/clover lay would yield? Grass/clover lays bring a higher risk of bloat and a need for higher level grazing management skills.
The most important lesson here was to not over complicate breeding. The Economic Breeding Index (EBI) is often cited as being the most profitable way for breeding efficient cows, irrespective of the system you’re using. It focuses only those traits which have been scientifically proven to improve profitability and is reviewed by Moorepark on an annual basis, ensuring that a wide number of relevant factors are considered. These include any advancements in genetic research or changes to the global milk price forecast.
Previously, the EBI hasn’t been strong on feed efficiency or health and disease but these deficiencies are now being addresses. From our perspective, it is important that we select bulls that suit our system and type of milk contract. The top bulls from LIC or Ireland Genetics should deliver the results we require so long as we stick to the basics. Our top tip is to choose EBI bulls with good daughter proofs.
The open day at Moorepark simply reinforced to us the importance of workplace organisation and communication. We were strongly encouraged to continue with our wall planners and white boards detailing the main farm KPIs and staff rotas that are visible, clear and simple to follow.
Looking to the future, we need to reinforce the training we provide. For example, for each task a new team member is asked to undertake, there should be a corresponding training kit which falls in line with our protocols. The protocols themselves need organising by Grasslands staff to make them more accessible. Our farm visit to Moore Hill Co. Waterford, where Shane Maxwell operates 2 units milking 600 and 420 cows respectively. He uses a series of videos as part of his new staff training, covering topics such as operating the parlour, milking the cows and shutting down the parlour. This is something Grasslands would be keen to explore. Videos of milking, calf tubing, tagging, recording and drying off cows could be useful tools to speed up the training of routine tasks. These are all standard procedures on all Grasslands farms but there is still a degree of variation, especially for drying off.
Finally, it became quite clear at the open day that finding good dairy farm labour seems to be a worldwide problem. This is something we all need to look closely at if we are to find a lasting solution.