Project code: D-29-06
Duration 4 years
Team and Leader C. Ferris, A. Dale, N.O’Connell, S.Mayne, (ARINI, Hillsborough), M. McCoy (Veterinary Science Division), C.Watson (Agri Environment Division) and D.Anderson (Agri Food Economics Division)
Organisations Involved ARINI, VSD, AED & AFED
Background and Summary
The Northern Ireland dairy industry continues to face increasing pressures and challenges, including falling milk prices, increasing costs of inputs, ever increasing environmental pressures, labour shortages and increasing lifestyle expectations. However, within this scenario, milk production systems on many farms have continued to become increasingly complex, and both capital and labour intensive.
Even Spring calving herds, which are traditionally considered to be low cost, are increasingly relying on purchased concentrates and conserved forage, the focus having moved away from maximising the use of grazed grass. That this has occurred despite the stated aim of many farmers ‘to reduce the costs of milk production’, indicates a lack of confidence in predominantly grazed grass based systems. However, systems that maximise the use of grazed grass are adopted widely throughout the Republic of Ireland, and in both favourable and non-favourable parts of Northern Ireland. There is evidence that, when well managed, these systems can result in reduced labour inputs, reduced capital investment, improved animal health and welfare, and improved ‘bottom line’ profits. Whilst contrasting ‘winter calving’ systems of milk production have been examined at ARINI in a recently completed AgriSearch project, no similar evaluation has been made of contrasting ‘Spring calving’ systems, despite the fact that approximately 50% of cows in Northern Ireland calve from 1 January – 31st May.
The proposed programme will involve a total of 90 animals, including approximately 30 Jersey x Holstein crosses. Three contrasting ‘farmlet systems’ will be established at ARINI, with systems likely to incorporate the following components:
System 1: Maximise use of grazed grass (30 animals: 15 Holstein and 15 Jersey x Holstein crosses)
Maximise milk from grazed forage
Minimise use of conserved forage
Use of saved grass
Graze 80-100% of farm in Spring
0.3 - 0.5 t concentrate (use concentrates only when short of grass)
Dry cows outwintered
System 2: ‘Conventional’ spring calving system (30 animals: 15 Holstein and 15 Jersey x Holstein crosses)
High yields from forage
Increased use of conserved forage
Graze 40-50% of farm in Spring
Dry cows mainly indoors
Approximately 1.0 t concentrate
System 3: High input spring calving system (30 animals: Holstein)
Increased reliance on concentrate and conserved forage
Moderate inputs of grazed grass
Buffer feeding/night time housing
Approximately 1.5 – 2.0 t concentrate
Complete diet feeding during winter period
Animal health and welfare
Herbage quality, yield and sward persistency
Costs and bottom line profit
Final report to be submitted to AgriSearch in October 2009.
The study is designed to provide clear guidance to Northern Ireland dairy farmers operating Spring calving systems. The impact of management system on cow performance, labour requirements, and environmental sustainability will be key outcomes. However, whole system profit based financial outcomes will be the ultimate end point. This study will also provide important data for validation of the recently completed economic model which suggests that moderate input, spring calving milk production systems are the most profitable in N Ireland. In addition, the study will provide scientific data on the performance of Jersey x Holstein cross dairy cows, relatively to pure Holstein dairy cattle, on two different Spring calving systems.