Is there a role for high input/high output dairy systems in Ireland?

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The Lyons UCD trial herd was established to investigate the potential of an alternative higher input system of milk production to the grass-based model being advocated by Teagasc. The reasons for establishing the trial include: (i) concerns about increasing dairy numbers and environmental emissions; (ii) facilitating farm expansion post EU-milk quota removal for land limited and fragmented farms; and (iii) lack of available skilled labour on farms to deal with expanding animal numbers.

Both the UCD Lyons system and the Teagasc system have many similarities and the following principles are common to each: high grass utilisation, high EBI herds and compact spring calving systems. The main difference between the two systems is regarding the level of input and output.

Anecdotally, at a profit monitor meeting last spring with one of my discussion groups, the two most profitable farmers were the ones with highest level of meal feeding per cow and the man with the lowest level of meal feeding per cow, but both were excellent farmers running their farms at extremely high levels of efficiency.

Should we all be feeding 1,500kgs/cow?

As can be seen from Table 1, nationally we are feeding our cows 1,008kgs per cow, so our cows are already getting a decent amount of feed.

However, we are only getting 372kgs of milk solids of a return from our cows for this level of meal feeding.

Feeding high levels of meal can be economical as long as the cow is giving it back to you in the form of milk.

However, the figures in the table below tend to suggest that on a national level, we are not getting the milk back from the cow to the extent that we should be.

The Teagasc model has often drawn criticism from many quarters mainly due to the low level of meal feeding advocated. However, this model of dairying is a low risk model capable of surviving the ups and downs of milk price.

As the national research and advisory body, it would not be prudent of us to be advising farmers across the country to increase the already high level of meal feeding to push our national milk output per cow to achieve a probable figure of barely in excess of 400kgs milk solids per cow.

The economics of this simply would not stack up.

In light of this, is there a role for the Lyons UCD model in an Irish dairying context? Yes, there is, but only on farms that are run at the very highest level of technical efficiency.

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