February marks the start of the main calving period here in Ireland. Between now and May, approximately 1.5 million dairy calves will be born. This means that the vast majority of Irish dairy cows will calve within a compact 12 week period! This block calving model differs from that witnessed in many dairy regions throughout the world.
This block calving in spring time is primarily operated so that cows are calving close to when grass begins to grow rapidly. The temperate Irish climate lends itself to the growth of lush pastures. Mild temperatures and an abundance of rain (national average of 1200mm or 47 inches) ensures excellent grass growing conditions, although it means that Ireland is not a destination for a sunny beach holiday! Grass growth follows a seasonal pattern, with peak growth occurring in early summer. As a result of this growth and calving pattern, national milk supply will peak in the month of May. Milk production will increase six fold between January and May, for example in 2018, national milk production in January was 161 million litres while in May it exceeded 993 million litres.
No panda eyes in the first three Herefords of the #calving19 season pic.twitter.com/8ZZ2BLaA9O — Lorna Sixsmith 🐄 (@LornaESixsmith) January 28, 2019
Spring time is therefore an intensely busy time on Irish dairy farms. Calving, milking, transitioning cows from winter housing to pasture, and feeding calves ensures that all hands are needed on the 18,000 Irish family farms. In a recent Teagasc farm survey, dairy farmers estimated that they worked 86 hours per week in spring 2018.
An efficient pasture-based, block calving dairy unit will aim to manage their pasture for maximum yield while managing their cows to maximise milk solid production and ensure reproduction targets are met to produce a calf every 365 days. On average, Irish dairy cows produce approximately 5,200 litres of milk per year on a low input system, creating a national milk pool of over 7.25 billion litres. The vast majority of this milk is used for manufacturing dairy products. 60% is used to make butter, while a further 25% of the milk pool is used to produce cheese. One of Ireland’s most famous exports is Kerrygold butter, which can be purchased in supermarkets throughout the world.
If you would like to learn more about Irish dairy farming or wish to take a tour with us and visit such farms in person, then contact us today on firstname.lastname@example.org or +353 87 2227869.