Judge urges dairy farmers to make more use of grass in feeding cattle
Dublin milk producer Mervyn Eager believes that dairy farmers in Northern Ireland do not make enough use of grazed grass and, as a consequence, are mounting up unnecessary costs.
He made these comments while judging the dairy cattle classes at last weekend's Newry Show.
"Grass is, by far, our cheapest feed: I just think that dairy farmers in Northern Ireland don't make enough use of it.
"The alternative approach is to feed cows expensive concentrate feeds, most of which are imported. This is adding serious costs to each farmer's business. And at a time when the world's dairy markets are weakening dramatically, it is an approach that just doesn't stack up."
Mr Eager characterised the most appropriate dairy cow for Irish conditions as one that can produce 8,000 litres of milk per annum from grazed grass, silage and approximately one tonne of concentrate feed. He pointed out that many dairy farmers in Northern Ireland were actually achieving this level of output but have to feed up to three tonnes of concentrate to get it.
"Dairy farmers north and south are guilty of thinking that they can breed their way out of problems by using the latest high-profile bull," he said.
"Not enough importance is placed on the merit of the cow families that already exist within a herd. So, before buying one straw of semen, farmers should actively select their best cows and use them as the focus of their future breeding plans."
The dairy championship at Newry was won by Downpatrick breeder Jim Morrison with his choice Holstein second calver Inch Sam Roxy VG88
"She calved back in January and is currently giving 42 litres of milk per day," he said.
"Our aim is to take her to Antrim Show next month, where she will take her chances in the McLarnon's Dairy Cow Championship."
Meanwhile in the beef cattle rings the Connolly family, from Ballynahinch, were holding sway with their four-year-old Charolais cow Wesley Glamorous. She entered the show ring with her eight-week-old calf at foot. The cow's beef inter-breed championship win at Newry follows on from her successes at Balmoral Show. In May she won both the Charolais Championship and the reserve inter breed title.
Judge John Blackburn, from Clogher in Co Tyrone, described the cow as an almost perfect example of the Charolais breed.
"The fact that she has her calf at foot is a tremendous bonus: she is a proven breeding animal," he said.