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Forage & Nutrition
Guide 2018
Farm incomes under pressure
for 2018
According to the December 2017 Central Statistics Office
(CSO) Livestock Survey, the number of cattle in Ireland was
6,673,600, an increase of 60,200 (+0.9 per cent) on December
2016. The number of dairy cows increased by 48,100 (+3.7 per
cent), while other cows fell by 23,700 (-2.3 per cent). Cattle
aged two years and over (excluding cows and bulls), increased
by 18,400 (+4.6 per cent). The CSO also reported that in June
last total sheep numbers were up by 73,700 (+1.4 per cent) to
The early winter and late spring has, again, highlighted the
need for adequate forage stocks of good quality to cater for
increasing livestock numbers. Using a top-class silage additive
and protecting the clamp with better quality silage covers will
greatly minimise fermentation and storage losses.
The new milk quota is on land and labour, so dairy farmers
need to significantly improve herd performance and invest in
new technology to make a decent profit from their investment
and increased milk production.
For example, a modern milking parlour will save a huge amount
of time and labour while greatly improving the farming
lifestyle. Cows will spend fewer hours waiting on concrete yards
and will have a lot more time for grazing.
Livestock farmers need to optimise production from grass so as
to increase milk yields/hectare (ha), to improve live weight gain
and to conserve more silage. So, it makes sense to do more
reseeding with top-class grass varieties. In this regards, grass
palatability is an important trait to optimise dry matter intakes.
Unfortunately, without adequate soil nutrients, grassland
production will be well behind its potential. Over the last 10
years, Teagasc has analysed approximately 38,500 soil samples
per annum for their farmer clients. These samples provide an
insight to national soil fertility trends soil pH, phosphorus (P)
and potassium (K).
Currently, 64 per cent of grassland soils are below the optimum
soil pH (ie. pH 6.3 for efficient grassland production). In fact, we
are applying less than half the quantity of lime that was applied
in the 1970s and early 1980s. Applying lime to correct soil pH
is the cornerstone for maintaining the productivity of our soils.
It is also well-established that the trace mineral status
of swards in Ireland is suboptimal; deficiencies of copper,
selenium and iodine are widespread (Mee and Rogers, 1996).
So, to optimise milk production and livestock health, farmers
need to improve animal nutrition. A conversation with your
Teagasc adviser or agricultural consultant would be well
However, it does not make good economic sense to become
over-dependent on grass forage due to the vagaries of our Irish
weather. It also does not make much sense for dairy farmers to
be competing for scarce rental land with tillage farmers.
A better option would be to forward contract with tillage
farmers to purchase fodder beet, forage maize, barley and
straw for buffer and winter feeding using the diet feeders
available on many farms.
Poor animal health and fertility will impact on livestock
performance and on family incomes. However, there are now
several well-proven heat and herd health detection systems
available. These are an excellent long-term investment and
will save lots of time, a great deal of money and significantly
improve performance.
The various storms over the last year and snowfalls in recent
times have highlighted the need for well-constructed animal
housing. Farmers also need to invest in power generators,
heating in the parlour to prevent pipelines freezing and extra
milk storage to cater for bigger herds and potential delays in
milk collection.
Liam de Paor,
Liam de Paor