Former IFA Beef Chairman Michael Doran tells all about his move from beef to dairy

The aim of the system is to keep it as simple as possible, pushing yields is not important but production from grass is, according to Michael Doran.

Doran, a dairy farmer from Duncormick, Co. Wexford, is a relatively new member of the Teagasc and Glanbia Monitor Farm Programme, spoke at a farm walk on his farm about the process of transferring from a beef to dairy enterprise and his future expansion plans.

Jersey cross cows at college

Moving from a Beef to a Dairy Enterprise

The move from beef to dairy was a logical one due to the additional profit associated with a dairy enterprise, according to Doran.

Presently, there are 20 beef animals remaining on the farm but these will be sold before housing this year, he said.

Doran added, that the sales of the original 120-cow suckler herd allowed him to be in a position to milk 200 cows next year.

This has occurred for two reasons, he said, the first being the relatively good price achieved from sales of the beef herd, while dairy stock were also cheaper due to the restraints of quota.

The second-year dairy farmer also tried to purchase animals from as few herds a possible to prevent major disease outbreaks in both the purchased and existing herds on the farm.

Bull beef

Grassland Management and Expansion Plans

According to Doran, there are plans to increase the herd size to 240 cows by 2018, while also substantially increasing milk solids yield per cow.

This process of expansion will be based on the farms ability to grow 16t/ha and utilise 85% of the grass grown.

The Wexford native already classifies himself as a grass farmer as he has been measuring grass for the previous 10 years.

To date in 2015, the farm has grown 13.7t/ha of grass and it will grow close to 15t/ha overall, this is a slight drop from 2014 when it produced 16t/ha, while the top performing fields are producing 18t/ha.

Drumbo monoculture

This drop in production has occurred as the farm has a vast surplus of silage and so the Nitrogen fertiliser applications have been reduced, said Doran.

Doran added, that this surplus silage is a good as money in the bank.

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Milking Parlour and Infrastructure

The process of transferring from a beef enterprise to dairy was fully examined and planned by Doran, but he added he was in a lucky position as the farm already had cattle housing from the existing beef enterprise.

Since this move to dairy, the landscape of the farmyard has changed with 235 cubicles installed for the ever-expanding dairy herd.

The parlour is often cited as the most expensive investment any farmer can make after the purchasing of land, but the Teagasc Glanbia Monitor farmer kept the cost of this investment relatively low.

In total, after the deduction of VAT and grant aid the farmer spent in the region of €155,000 on a 24-unit herringbone Dairymaster parlour.

“We built a total greenfield parlour, I decided to go with a new parlour and we invested from day one.

“Before this investment, I had considered purchasing a second-hand parlour. The first opportunity to save money is the day you start spending it,” said Doran.

24 unit dairy master milking parlour

Milk Quota Difficulties

The Doran family farm has been a victim of its own success and the additional milk production in 2014 now means that the farm faces a hefty superlevy bill.

“We have a fairly large superlevy bill on the farm, it is hard to believe that we can be standing here in October and quota can still be affecting us.”

According to Doran, the milk solids production suffered last year due to the constraints quota placed on output, to deal with this issue, the farm was forced to go once-a-day-milking on two occasions, both in July of 2014 and the spring of 2015.

Doran added that he also dried off cows early last October to limit some of the extra production, however, this failed and the farm still faces a large superlevy bill.

Farm Facts

  • Milking Platform – 51.6ha
  • Cow number – 132
  • Milk Supply – 514,800L
  • Fat % – 4.8
  • Protein % – 3.95
  • Milk Sales – €167,230
  • Net Profit/ha – €1,208/ha 

Cow Type

Today, the farm is milking a herd of 132 Jersey cross cows. Cow choice was another factor the Wexford farmer put a lot of thought into as he had never milked until 2014.

The decision to choose this type of cow happened as a result of the solids these animals produce.

“I want to be a grass farmer, I am not interested in pushing yields, I am interested in pushing profits.

“We are aiming for 5,000L of milk with a concentrate input of about 500kg,” said Doran.

Doran added, that another major benefit of these animals is the reduced requirement for TLC and better fertility and they would also be more forgiving during his first year in milk production.

The Opportunity to Purchase Land

The relatively new entrant to dairying has recently purchased an adjoining 26ha block. Doran sold land five miles away from the milking platform to make this purchase possible (16ha).

“The purchased land opens up an opportunity to maximise the production from the farm. But the sale of the original land didn’t cover the full cost, it came very close, these were hundreds in the difference rather than thousands.”

This additional land will mean that Doran’s milking platform will increase to 80ha.

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