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Innovation on Irish farms and Moorepark cheese innovation

Breed composition of the national sheep flock, Innovation on Irish farms and Moorepark cheese innovation

A new herd health programme aimed at preparing Irish dairy farmers for the biosecurity challenges of herd expansion has started at the Teagasc Dairy Production Research Centre, Moorepark.

Two research projects, one focusing on mastitis and milk quality issues, and the other on infectious diseases, have commenced, led by John Mee and colleagues. Two new veterinarians have been employed to work on these projects. Details of the new projects are contained in an article in TResearch, the Teagasc research magazine. In Ireland, average bulk tank somatic cell counts (BTSCC) have risen annually by 5,000/ml since the start of this decade. Farmers are losing financially through penalties imposed due to milk quality issues, such as somatic cell count (SCC), bacterial content and residues and direct costs associated with clinical mastitis cases.

The idea of using a team-based approach to solving milk quality issues is one that the University of Wisconsin has explored with great commercial success. The Teagasc team-based milk quality/mastitis control plan is presently being designed at Moorepark and is based on some of the key concepts of the US approach, namely team-based, involving realistic targets, identifying strategic management changes, accountability and regular re-assessment.

It will commence with a pilot programme involving 20 farms. The teams will be made up of Teagasc advisers, manufacturing outlet milk quality advisers, vets, milking machine technicians and the host farmer. Preparation for the pilot will include training workshops for all parties involved aimed at improving the skills required to work through milk quality issues on farm. Farmers are currently being recruited to participate in the pilot programme, which will run for a period of nine months.

Breed composition of the national sheep flock

The genetic make-up of the Irish national sheep flock is the subject of an article by Seamus Hanrahan, Teagasc Sheep Research Centre, Athenry. He reports on a recent survey and identifies areas of concern. One area is the low proportion of rams that were purchased at pedigree sales, where information on breeding value for lean meat index (LMI) is available from breeders who participate in the Pedigree Sheep Breed Improvement Programme (PSBIP) for terminal sire breeds. Across the three principal terminal sire breeds less than one fifth of rams are sourced from such sales.

In addition, the study found that the age profile of rams and ewe:ram ratios are not at levels that would be desirable to maximise the potential gain from genetic improvement programmes.

Also, given the pattern of ram usage on hill flocks, the Scottish Blackface breed is barely producing enough purebreds to maintain the current population, while the current usage of Cheviot rams cannot sustain the purebred Cheviot population.

Innovation on Irish farms

Dairy and tillage farmers are the most innovative groups of Irish farmers.
Data on farmer innovation was gathered as part of the National Farm Survey carried out by the Teagasc Rural Economy Research Centre last Autumn. A sample of 1,052 farmers was questioned about the type of innovation they were engaged in. The initial results from Teagasc researcher Kevin Heanue shows that dairy and tillage farmers are the most innovative. The most frequent type of innovative activity relates to organisational and process issues.

The next stage of the research will develop a more comprehensive profile of those farmers who are innovating and those who are not. Factors that influence farmers’ attitudes to innovation include the farmer’s age, farm size, whether or not they are clients of Teagasc, whether the farmer is full-time or part-time, the education level of the farmer and the interaction of the farmer with discussion groups and monitor farms, for example.

Moorepark cheese innovation

Ongoing cheese research at the Teagasc Moorepark Food Research Centre has greatly benefited the Irish dairy industry and huge potential for the industry to develop its cheese output still lies ahead. One of the most exciting recent developments was the filing by Moorepark of a patent for a novel cheese-making technology without a whey drainage step. The article in the latest edition of TResearch features details of this new technology. Tom Beresford and Tim Guinee from Moorepark explain the development of the cheese research programme since 2000. The public funding made available to support cheese research has enabled continued development of a cheese programme that responds to industrial needs, while laying foundations in science and technology that will assist the future expansion and development of the industry.

Eric Donald | alfa
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