George goes dairy farming Episode 2 a date with a spring calving Meath farmer
For the second installment in the series: ‘George goes dairy farming’, Co. Wicklow based farmer George Beattie has to quickly register a calf and then he’s on the road to Slane, Co. Meath, where he meets with Peter Mongey.
Peter – who was a finalist in Teagasc’s Grass10 Programme two years ago – has moved from a winter milk production system to 110-cow, spring-calving operation.
In the video (below), Peter explains the system on the farm and what was involved in the transition from one system to the other. He also provides his top tips on what direction George should take his farm in.
Prior to the visit, George explains how HerdApp has greatly reduced the pressure and paperwork when it comes to registering his calves during the busy calving period.
To find out more about HerdApp, just click here.
Tell us a little bit about the farm and what you are doing?
We’re totally spring milk here for the last two years. We were in winter milk up to that point and now we’re milking 110 cows on a 42ha platform, with 29ha of a grazing platform.
See the video here.
How was that transition from a winter milk herd to an all spring-based system?
It was a transition over three years. I suppose pre-quota we were limited to what we could produce and we had a small grazing platform here on the farm – just 10ha.
We were milking 55 cows, so winter milk fitted the system. But then when quota went – and we acquired land beside us – the herd started to grow. The number of cows in winter milk was a smaller and smaller percentage of the herd.
So, it wasn’t really viable to milk 20 cows to fill the winter milk contract, so that’s why we made the change.
What’s was the biggest factor during the transition period?
Grassland management is something that I’m working hard on. We have been grass measuring here for the last 12-13 years.
We have a good reseeding policy of approximately 15% each year if we can. The two out blocks are used for cutting silage, so we keep those reseeded every five-to six years. So, there is high-quality feeding going in; grass is very important to maintain the numbers we have here.
What are the biggest advantages that you see now that you have moved systems?
I have a dry period now; I have a break for four-to-five weeks – some time to recharge the batteries and get those jobs that need to be done pre-calving.
I have time to get the place right; plus, I just have two batches of animals as such, whereas before I had four plus the milkers; so it leaves that a lot simpler.
When I finish calving, I can totally focus on breeding; I’m not breeding when I’m calving and vice versa. I have one batch of calves rather than two in the autumn and spring.
How did you deal with a large number of cows calving in a tight period of time? What’s your policy on calf rearing?
When the calf is born, we feed adequate amounts of colostrum in the first three hours; we stomach tube if it doesn’t suck.
We spend the time with the calf when it’s born to ensure it gets it. We’re in the Johne’s disease programme as well, so the calf is taken from the cow earlier.
You would have used a different type of cow with the winter-based system. Did you buy in new animals during the transition?
No. There were no animals bought in here going back generations, so we have grown the herd from within. We have changed the animal; it has taken a bit of time, but we’re working with the EBI – watching it very closely.
We also have been using genomics over the past three-to-four years. We are selecting bulls for solids and for fertility.
Which is your deciding factor when it comes to breeding – fertility or production?
When you work with the top of the list, both fertility and production go hand-in-hand. So, it’s very easy to get bulls with both traits.
How do you decide what you are going to breed with? What tools do you use?
We milk record. I’m in the parlour every day so I know the cows that are milking well and have good temperament. I also know problem cows and cows’ cell count.
So, there are a range of factors that cows are selected and culled on. I’m also contract rearing here for the last four-to-five years so that’s brilliant.
We have a larger number of heifers than we need coming in, so we can select only heifers as well; we can go harder on culling or we have heifers there for sale.
What do you do with the animals you don’t select for breeding, but you want to keep the cow? Do you use beef genetics?
Yes. We would use a lot of Belgian Blue here on the farm. I suppose coming from a Holstein Friesian herd, the cow would have been a big enough cow to start with; I have never had any problems calving a Belgian Blue.
How important is it for dairy farmers – that are at their desired herd number and maybe starting to use more beef genetics – to have a good relationship with local beef farmers?
It’s very important. Everybody is looking for a good calf, so it’s important to select good bulls that you will have a good calf to start with.
The farmers that come to me know how I rear the calf; they have a healthy, thriving calf ready to go on further. They are very happy and always return.
How important is reinvestment in the yard and facilities for a one-man show?
I would say to any guy starting out to hold back on the reins when it comes to borrowing; don’t overstretch yourself.
Maybe work with what you have and over time you can improve. Having a little bit of help is brilliant and I have automated heat detection here on the farm that’s tied in with the drafting system; that saves a lot of labour.
What’s your philosophy? What would you send me home with to really think about?
Know what you want and go after it – probably starting with your cow; have your right cow from day one. It’s also important to get your soil fertility right; you will not grow the grass unless your soil fertility is correct.
There are plenty of apps out there that don’t cost a huge amount of money to help manage the farm better. I’m still a work in progress, but bit-by-bit we are trying to improve as we go along.
George will be visiting more farms over the coming weeks, stay tuned into AgriLand to follow his journey to dairying…
See episode one here.
This piece featured on Agriland on the 2nd January 2020.
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