Corbetts planning for change

5th September 2015

Corbetts planning for change

Fertility performance and grass utilisation are key areas of focus towards making the Corbett dairy farm more profitable, even when milk prices are volatile

Conail Keown reports on the Corbett dairy farm, where two key areas have been identified for focused development, with stable profitability in mind. Like most dairy farmers at present, Nigel and Edna Corbett are feeling the pressure of depressed milk prices and the real pressure this places on total farm income. Reviewing dairy benchmarking for the year ending March 2015, the farm received 28.27p/litre on average for all milk sold that year. Comparing this with current prices highlights the difficult reality most dairy farmers are facing.

In Nigelís case, total income from milk sales is down 37% for the period April to July this year. While 4% of this can be attributed to reduced milk volume sold in the period, the remaining 33% is all milk price related. If current prices continue, a projected average milk price of 20p/litre for the year ending in March 2016 may be a reality. If this transpires, it would equate to a total reduction in milk sales of £57,000 (Ä77,000) over a 12-month period for Nigel, a 28% drop in milk sales income.

Off-farm employment

Nigelís son Richard had been involved in the farm over the past few years. However, current financial pressure has forced him to look outside the farm for employment. While Richard enjoyed working on the family farm, generating a wage for him was becoming difficult, especially with the downturn in milk price.

Nigel and Edna are still keen for Richard to be involved in the business some day. However, both are realistic and appreciate that the scale of the business must be increased and the physical and financial performance of the herd must improve significantly in order to be able to provide an income for themselves and Richard.

Major investment was made in the farm in 2011 in the form of a new milking parlour and cubicle building. This outlay has proved invaluable, especially now that Richard is no longer working on the farm as the daily workload can be handled relatively easily by Nigel and Edna on their own.

The new parlour means that the milking can be done comfortably by one person, and the new cubicle infrastructure allows cows to be housed with ease during winter months. The focus for the Corbetts now is the development of the production system after a review of the performance of the herd highlighted a number of issues which are restricting profitability. These issues include:

∑ Poor fertility performance within the herd. Low heat detection rates coupled with a spread calving profile have had a negative impact on submission and conception rate in the herd.

∑ High levels of concentrate feeding have resulted in poor feed efficiency and utilisation of grazed grass and forage.

While it is relatively easy to identify the problems within a farm business, developing a plan that can deliver sustainable development in terms of economic, environmental, and social aspects of farming is not as easy.However, through the Dairylink Ireland Project, the Corbetts are in the process of having a strategic farm plan developed for them, which has the key family goals and how to deliver them as the central objective.

Planning for the future

Two key areas have been identified for focused development on the farm. The aim of the plan is to develop a production system to be profitable even when milk prices are volatile. Crucial for Nigel throughout any future plans is that the farm must provide a good working environment for all involved in the business.

Fertility performance

Achieving good fertility performance always depends on the existing herd genetics. If breeding within the herd has been targeting fertility over the past five years then submission and conception rates will be good if heat detection is on target.

In Nigelís case, breeding must be focused more on fertility and milk solids, and less on milk yield. Currently the herd is not delivering in terms of fertility performance, with a calving profile spread from October to May. Genetically the herd has milk yield potential, but it tends to come at the expense of fertility.

The herd is yielding 7,353 litres with a calving interval of 395 days, which illustrates the milk potential of the herd, but the long calving interval implies cows are taking longer to return in-calf.

Setting breeding targets for the herd to include bull selection criteria for fertility, milk solids, milk yield, and lifespan is critical. Nigel is focused on breeding a cow which can deliver profitable milk, and if this means setting the breeding criteria higher on the PLI or EBI index, or looking at cross breeding, then these options must be explored.

Grass utilised per hectare

Central to the overall farm plan is the utilisation of grass in the cowsí diet. Attempting to get a handle on this starts with weekly grass measurement Ė how much grass can the farm actually grow?The benchmarked performance highlighted that only 1,662 litres/cow was produced from grazed grass and forage last year. This performance can only be improved by setting realistic feeding targets for the herd on a daily basis to maximise grass and forage utilisation. Reducing the concentrate feed rate for the herd is a priority for Nigel, who feels 700kg can be removed from the purchased feed with better grass management.

More detail will be discussed in future articles on individual farm plans for all Dairylink Ireland project farms. In Nigelís situation, some overall business goals must be established in order to develop a strategic plan for the farm business which will align with these goals.

This article has been reproduced with the kind permission of the Irish Farmers Journal. Please click on the below Irish Farmers Journal logo to be brought to additional dairy articles

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