From contracting to milking 200 cows: The role drafting plays on one Co. Laois farm
Farming in Grange Beg, Co. Laois, Paddy Dooley will milk 200 crossbred cows this spring. Calving is almost finished and over 180 cows are currently in milk.
Paddy runs an impressive herd of crossbred cows. From a meal input of 500kg/cow last year, each individual cow in the herd produced 470kg of milk solids.
The herd’s fertility is also impressive and approximately 90% of the cows calved down in a six-week window this spring; annual culling rates run below 10%.
Telling his story, Paddy said: “I left school when I was 15 and I started contracting when I was 19. My father used to milk around 50 cows at the time.
“As dad got older and I got more involved in the day-to-day running of the farm, we basically started upping cows numbers.
“Dad was farming 160ac, but it was quite fragmented. There were only about 90ac on the home block and the rest were all in different parcels.
“Around 2004, land came up for sale in the middle of us and we were able to join some of the blocks together; but we got quite heavily in debt at the time.”
After purchasing the land, Paddy upped the milking herd to approximately 250 cows and the hire work aspect of the business was phased out.
“Last year, we calved down 250 cows; but we got caught with TB and lost 90 cows and 45 calves. In one sense we were lucky as we had a lot of yearling heifers coming through and we are back up to calving 200 cows this year.”
The importance of planning
When questioned about debt, he said: “I think debt is no problem once you have a plan. The best piece of advice I can give to anybody is to employ the services of a good consultant.
Don’t just get into more cows because everybody else is doing it. It’s important to have a plan and to put your money where it can generate a decent return.
“Don’t just spend money on the fancy stuff; spend it where it is going to give you a return on your investment. Planning is everything and debt is no problem once it’s structured, planned and it’s not over-exposing yourself,” he said.
Built in 2008, Paddy is currently milking in a 20-unit parlour. “You can manage a 20-unit parlour once you have a good routine,” he explained.
“We don’t have an issue with milking in a 20-unit parlour with no ACRs (automatic cluster removers). In general, there’s no over-milking and there’s only ever one person milking the cows most days.”
Despite the parlour being of sufficient scale to milk the herd, Paddy needed to look at alternative methods of drafting cows once the herd grew past 100.
Previously, he had used a manual drafting system; but a three-way Saber Draft was installed in recent years. The addition of Saber Draft means that Paddy and his staff can focus on milking cows and other important jobs around the farm.
There’s no need to have somebody physically drafting out cows as Saber Draft performs this task. This reduces the labour pressure on the farm at a time when it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find skilled operatives.
Paddy explained: “I had a manual drafter with a pull chord in the the pit; but as the herd got bigger, I couldn’t physically milk them all of the time myself, so I had to have people working for me.
“I’d be looking for a cow or I’d tell the guys to draft out a specific cow and they could spend three days trying to find her.”
Now – since Saber Draft was installed – drafting out cows for various tasks is as simple as typing the cow’s number into the system.
On this, he said: “It was a gift when we had the TB issue, as 44 went down on the first test. I knew the numbers and all I had to do was type them into the screen and then they were in the holding yard.
We also have a repetitive draft going everyday for freshly-calved cows and some antibiotic cows. They are in the main herd, but they’re taped and sprayed red.
“When they come into the milking parlour, we don’t milk them and Saber Draft singles them out automatically to the left and we just milk them at the end.
“It means that you are not looking for numbers in the pit and you are not questioning if a cow is ready for the tank.
“We were never before able to CMT (California Milk Test) every cow in the herd before going into the bulk tank. Now, we test every cow.
“Once a cow is clear, the red tape is removed and she’s sprayed blue. Saber Draft has just simplified everything and it was a gift during the spring.”
Paddy also discussed a number of other ways Saber Draft is utilised on his farm, adding: “We were even drafting out high somatic cell count cows last year. We had seven-to-10 high cell count cows and rather than milking them with the main herd, we just milked them at the end when the pipe was taken out of the bulk tank.”
Saber Draft also has a role to play when it comes to managing under-conditioned cows. The Laois-based farmer explained: “We have 10 or 12 cows that are under-conditioned and we have them on a repetitive draft every morning to feed them a few kilograms of extra nuts.”
What is Saber Draft?
Saber Draft is a drafting unit that allows you to draft automatically while you get on with the business of milking.