Husband and wife team, Brian James and Lorna Sixsmith, have a 130-cow spring-calving Holstein Friesian herd.
Based in Garrendenny, Crettyard, Co. Carlow, the couple’s herd increased from 115 cows in 2016. And in recent times, their milking platform has moved from about 49ha to 69ha.
The pair have farmed since 2002, after taking over from Lorna’s father, and farming has been a second career for them both.
The herd is delivering 480kg of milk solids, while maintaining a 365-day calving interval and a 6% empty rate.
Cows out to grass in February
The cows normally get out to grass by day in February and are out full-time by March. The herd is housed by night in late October and is housed full-time during the first week of December.
However, the farm is fairly heavy in places and getting out to grass has been delayed for the last two seasons. But the cows have been able to graze more in the back-end of both years.
This delayed access to spring-grass led to more meal being fed last year than would normally be the target of about 800kg/cow.
That said, Brian does like “a happy cow and a contented cow” and when push comes to shove he wouldn’t begrudge them extra meal feeding.
Making the switch to Holstein Friesian sires
The couple arrived back to Garrendenny 15 years ago to a largely British Friesian type herd and used some Rotbunt genetics initially.
Solids production then became the major focus and they selected high-protein Holstein Friesian sires. Since then milks solids production has been steadily rising.
Milk protein has climbed from 3.3% to 3.7%, while fat improved from 3.7% to 4.3%.
Brian says this means solids sold have gone from 300kg to nearly 500kg (milk solids). The national average is still 372kg.
The herd’s fertility is top class with a 365-day calving interval and an average of 285 days in milk, but a few April and May calvers drag that latter figure down. When these cows are excluded, the average days in milk rises to 294.
Virtually all cows were served last year within six weeks and there was a 5.5% involuntary culling rate.
In 2016, the herd delivered 480kg of milk solids to the creamery and that was after a late turnout and a reduced grazing season, as highlighted above.
The couple’s ideal cow weighs 500kg, produces 500kg of milk solids and calves every 365 days.
Brian said his ideal cow is “one that calves down every year, gives a reasonable volume and doesn’t give me any hassle with mastitis or whatever”.
The herd also uses the AI Service to reduce labour and for convenience. When asked about this Brian simply says: “We have enough to do”.
When he began using Progressive Genetics’ AI Service, he didn’t like moving away from twice-a-day AI. Now he says its “the best thing I ever did”.
“It works out well; I’m happy with it,” he said, “and it leads to less stress on the cows and a conception rate to the first service of over 60%”.
Bulls that feature amongst the milking cows are by GMZ, CFF, VML, BHZ, LLK, LHZ, HMY, TSK, PBM, AAC and ABO, amongst others.
The heifers coming into the parlour this year are predominantly sired by YGB, PBM, PSZ and PKR.
Some of the sires Brian used last year were: FR2007, FR2030, FR2032, FR2040, FR2041, FR2275, KAZ and LWR. The focus is very much on protein, fertility and a hardy, compact cow.
The herd genetic level is +0.08% protein, producing 3.70% protein.
An average herd could achieve this level using bulls +0.15% protein in their EBI, which is easily achievable from today’s top bulls.
Over 1,500kg of milk solids in first three lactations
LLK daughter Garrendenny Llk Skye 1794 recently calved for the fourth time as she had an LWR bull calf on the 16th February.
The latest calving gives the cow a 363 day calving interval and over her three lactations to date she has produced 1,576kg of milk solids.
In her last lactation, she averaged 4.19% fat and 3.75% protein or a milk solids production of 643kg.
This cow has never had a high SCC, with her three lactations to date averaging 45,000, plus her genomically tested EBI is €156.
Using the DIY Milk Recording Service
The couple uses the DIY Milk Recording Service, which is found to be reliable and convenient, but is primarily a very useful tool for improving milk quality and therefore increasing milk price.
The herd’s SCC ranged from 86,000 to 181,000 in 2016.
Milk recording helped achieve this, as after every recording problem cows are highlighted in the ‘Mastitis Incidence Problem – Cow Report’ and the ‘Cell-check Farm Summary’ helps identify areas the herd can improve on.
Milk Recording regularly provides information on which Brian ranks cows and makes breeding decisions. It enables him to highlight top cows, identify weak areas with other cows, allowing the couple to cull unprofitable cows with persistently high SCC counts.
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