Development of a profitable,
high-output, grass-based spring
The abolition of the European milk quota system in
2015 paved the way for farms to expand production.
However, the profitability associated with this
extra production for individual farms needs to be
examined and there must be a continuing focus
on improving efficiencies, writes
associate professor of dairy production,
University College Dublin
More milk from fewer cows
Given the significant costs associated with expansion and the
fact that many farmers are operating in a scenario where land
availability and building facilities are limiting the expansion of
their business, a higher-output spring-calving grazing system may
prove to be attractive. Such a system might facilitate the successful
expansion of the farm business without the need to buy or rent
extra land, buy stock, acquire extra labour or provide extra cow
facilities. Furthermore, from an environmental point of view,
continued increases in dairy cow numbers nationally may cause
difficulty in meeting emissions targets.
The Lyons high-output herd
University College Dublin (UCD) Lyons Research Farm established
a high Economic Breeding Index (EBI) herd of 60 cows in 2015
to investigate such a system, incorporating the most recent
advances in grassland management for dairy farms and using a
type of dairy cow that did not exist 15 or 20 years ago that has
both high milk output and fertility in the genotype. The rationale
is that a high-output, grass-based spring milk-production system
can be profitable when built on a foundation of good grassland
management and meeting both performance and fertility
targets, and has a place in a sustainable Irish dairy industry.
Importantly, there is little research into such a system in Ireland or
Targets of the system
The herd of 60 cows are in the top 1 per cent of EBI nationally, with
an EBI of 161, a milk sub-index of 55 and a fertility sub-index of
62. The performance target is 625kg of milk solids (MS) per cow
with a stocking rate on the milking platform of 3.4 live units (LU)/
ha and a whole farm stocking rate of 2.4LU/ha. The performance
target is 70 per cent higher than the national average figure of
approximately 380kgMS per cow.
Fertility targets are ambitious for a high-output herd and are the
same as those used to benchmark for lower-output, high-fertility
herds (75 per cent six-week in calf rate).
Stocking rate on milking platform
3.4LU per ha
Stocking rate whole farm
2.4LU per ha
Milk yield per cow
Milk solids per cow
Six-week in calf rate
75 per cent
Per cent diet as grazed grass
Per cent diet as grazed grass and grass silage
Feed budget 2018
From a feeding perspective, the focus is to maximise grass intake
with 75 per cent of the diet coming from grazed grass and grass
silage. However, achieving over 600kgMS will not happen on grass
only and, therefore, cows are fed 1,500kg concentrates over the
lactation to meet energy requirements. Cows are fed a flat rate (see
Table 2) with high feeding rates for the first four months post-
calving and high overall intakes are achieved. Future research may
compare different concentrate feeding levels or feed to yield.
Days in milk 0-20 20-60 60-120 120-180 180-240 240-270 270-305 306-365 Total annual
Output and fertility
Output per cow is within 5 per cent of the target set at 595kgMS
last year, resulting in just over 1,400kgMS per ha on the whole farm.
Fertility performance, however, remains a challenge, with a lower
than target six-week in-calf rate (54 per cent) and an empty rate of
15 per cent (13 weeks breeding) last year. The focus for the coming
years will be to try to improve fertility performance of the herd. All
areas, such as genetics, management, health and nutrition, will be
considered to try to improve fertility performance.
There were 14 tonnes (t) of grass grown in 2017, 1t more than in
2016. Despite a wet spring in 2017, cows were out to grass full time
on February 15 and only housed for five days during February and
March. The herd utilised over 12t of grass DM per ha in 2017.
Learnings to date
From the research in Lyons over the past two years, it is evident
that high levels of milk and MS output per cow and per ha are
achievable in this system and, importantly, also that high levels
of grass utilisation can also be achieved in higher-output grazing
systems. However, the demonstration of high levels of milk
production and fertility remains an issue and will continue to be
our focus over the coming years of the study.
Your food is our passion
Always look for the Bord Bia Quality Mark on Ham and Bacon so that you
will know they have been produced to the highest Bord Bia quality standards
and where they come from. That means you can relax and enjoy them more.
YOU CAN TRUST
IFM Page 200x283.indd 1