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23rd February, 2019


We are now experiencing a true Indian summer with excellent grazing conditions on both dry and marginal soils.  Milk production has been maintained without the usual plummet at this time of year associated with high rainfall and reduced temperatures.  Dairy farmers are in good spirits as they see milk solids from late lactation milk resulting in milk prices increasing above the 40c/Litre, psychological barrier.


There is an impending sting in the tail as a superlevy situation is looming.  With warning signs from Kerry Plc that their milk quota allocation could be breached, a national superlevy scenario is imminent.  The implications for many dairy farmers are catastrophic as they will not receive a milk cheque for this surplus milk without paying penalties until next May.


There are several reasons for the current risk of a superlevy, primarily driven by excellent grazing conditions in the summer months and autumn.

Poor grazing conditions in early spring combined with limited and poor quality forages meant that farmers had to supplement with concentrates to achieve the desired milk output and prevent excessive body condition score (BCS) loss.  With a focus on dairy herd expansion post quota, many farmers have increased stock numbers in the milk herd prematurely.  Dairy stock numbers are far in excess of the quota available.


What are farmers doing to avert a superlevy situation?  Some farmers in the low cost milk production systems are claiming that they will take the risk of a superlevy penalty as they will still make a profit on the excess milk supplied with current milk price.  I find it hard to believe that milk can be produced today at 14c/Litre without an adverse effect on BCS in preparation for dry cow management.


Once a day milking has been introduced on many farms, which will reduce milk output with the risk of increasing SCC.  In one reported case, a large dairy farmer has resorted to 5 milkings per week to reduce milk output.


Empty cows need to be identified now.  On average, farmers will identify 50pc of the empty cows on their farm.  Cows may either not be cycling for various reasons or unable to resume cycles because of embryonic or fetal death.  As stock numbers of in-calf replacement heifers have increased dramatically, it is fool hardy to think that there will not be a superlevy risk next year.  There is little point in carrying over empty cows either as strippers or non-lactating to reduce the required replacement rate with maiden heifers.


Current milk price with concurrent profitability of the enterprise have tempted many farmers to drive on with milk production to pay off bills associated with the harsh weather for the previous summer and winter.  Do not run the risk of a superlevy as this will cause too much hardship over the winter and spring months.  Avoid a superlevy risk by drying your cows off early giving first and second lactation cows’ greater priority.  This will also give them the opportunity to achieve the desired BCS of 3 to 3.5 at seven months pregnant.  Next year’s breeding programme begins with targeted BCS management from the seventh month of pregnancy.


We will finish with two positive outcomes in reproductive performance  dairy herds.  Remember this reflects on overall dairy herd health management.

In the first case study, Martin Casey, who milks 83 cows in a grass based milk production system with a 305 day 1,300 gallon average achieved 82 cows pregnant based on an USART scan for a 68 day breeding window.  Martin has a focus on cows which will maintain BCS.  When asked to comment on his success his reply was “that’s a secret “ as every Kerry farmer would fill his quota.


The second success story reveals how a high production type herd can achieve excellent reproductive performance.  Kieran Irwin farming near Ballingarry, Co. Limerick milks 140 cows with a rolling herd average of 1,800 gallons in 305 day lactation.  Kieran achieved 12.85% empty rate based on a 112 day breeding window.  This is based on excellent herd health management with the intervention of nutritional and reproductive management tools at opportune times of the production cycle.


Dr. Dan Ryan is a cow fertility expert and can be contacted at


Article written by Dr. Dan Ryan in The Farming Independent October 1st 2013.