In this week’s Dairy Focus, Agriland made the trip to the Banner county to visit the farm of Seamus Considine on the Loop Head peninsula.
Farming alongside his father, Seamus milks a herd of 65-cows, made up of mainly British Friesian-type cows.
The Considine family has farmed on the Loop Head peninsula since 1903, with dairy always being the main enterprise on the farm.
Seamus’ grandfather began the transition from a dual-purpose animal to an animal with more of a dairy focus, with Seamus’ father continuing this trend.
Seamus returned home from Pallaskenry Agricultural College in 2015 and entered a farm partnership with his father.
The herd has increased from 40 cows to 65 cows since then, with further expansion in numbers planned for the future.
The farm size has also increased, from 65ac to 98ac, with 33ac of leased land added to the milking platform. An outfarm is used for silage and keeping the heifers.
Focus after college
Since returning from college Seamus has changed the focus on the family dairy farm. Commenting on what has been the focus since returning home in 2015, he stated: “Trying to get the most out of grass and reducing the amount of time cows spend in the shed.
“The majority of the farm is on heavy clay soil, which makes grazing difficult in the shoulders of the year.”
The grazing season on the farm usually starts in early to mid-March, but Seamus said there have been years where they get out in February and other years when they don’t get out until April.
With reseeding and improved drainage, Seamus hopes that cows will be able to spend more time at grass.
A large amount of reseeding has been completed on the farm, including the introduction of multi-species swards.
Seamus plans to continue reseeding on the farm and improve the drainage as well.
Commenting on reseeding and the introduction of multi-species swards, Seamus said: “We have seen instant improvements from the reseeded paddocks and would like to get a further 5-6ac reseeded and drained this year.
“About three years ago we planted some multi-species swards on some of the cliff paddocks. We looked into multi-species swards because the land near the cliff has a hard shallow top soil – subsoiling isn’t an option because of the rock.
“I’m hoping that the tap roots will help to break up the soil and draw the nutrients back into the soil.”
Commenting on how the cows have adapted to the swards, Seamus said: “The first day they were a bit cautious of it, but after they got a taste of it they were flying.
“The cows milk just as well on it as the grass and clover swards. I am planning on planting more multi-species swards, especially along the cliff.
“The calves were a lot slower to take to the swards, they prefer the grass and clover.”
The management of multi-species swards is different to grass swards. Giving some insight into his experience managing them, Seamus stated: “You need to manage them completely different to grass; you cannot graze it then top it tight.
“The management of it is a lot different to grass. I lost a field of it after a year because I went in topping it after cows.
“That is the biggest thing I have learnt from having the multi-species swards.”
Seamus continued: “I halved my fertiliser in the first year, but I expect I will have to use more this year.
“It is a new crop to farmers and it needs to be farmed and managed in a different way than we manage grass or grass-clover swards.
“I think if it is managed correctly we should get five to six years out of the swards. A grass sward will last longer.
“But, the work that the sward will do to the soil, will far outweigh the cost of reseeding again.
“I wasn’t really thinking about emissions when I planted the swards, it was just about getting more out of my soil.
“Going forward, I need to learn more about what to put back into my land to improve soil fertility and performance,” Seamus added.
A spring-calving season is operated on the farm, and a big focus on this dairy farm is fertility and longevity.
Commenting on this, Seamus said: “We operate a spring-calving system on the farm. The planned start date for calving this year is February 1, with all cows due to be calved in eight weeks.
“The fertility of the cows has always been good with Dad always operating a compact calving.”
Seamus continued: “Fertility and compact calving is very much a focus on the farm. I am doing my own artificial insemination (AI). I know what kind of bulls now suit our cows and have a better understanding when we are picking bulls.
“The economic breeding index (EBI) of the herd is improving each year, it is not something I really focus on. I know many of the things I am trying to achieve relate to the EBI.
“But, there is no point having a high EBI cow that leaves the herd after five years.
“We want good, healthy cows that remain in the herd for a long time. I don’t want to be replacing cows every four or five years.”
“I have started some crossbreeding with Fleckvieh and Dairy Shorthorn, mainly just to try something new. The Fleckvieh were new to Ireland when I started using them and I had heard they had good health, milk and feet. So far they have done well,” he continued.
“We looked at the Jersey crossbreed, but calf sales are a big boost to cashflow on the farm. They have their benefits and suit some people’s system’s – just not ours at the minute.
“The aim for production for the herd is to produce 500kg of milk solids (ms) plus/cow, it’s not the main thing, but it is where I want to end up.
“Last year we produced 468kg of ms. We are really seeing the benefits of getting more grass into cows and having better quality grass for the cows.”
Outlook for 2022
The start of 2022 has seen the agricultural sector facing may challenges, with increasing costs the biggest one.
Speaking about how they plan on facing these challenges in 2022, Seamus said: “We are going to have to buy fertiliser.
“We are just going to have to buy the best value for money for fertiliser we can. I don’t mean the cheapest fertiliser, I mean best value for what you are getting.
“It could be the most expensive one there is but if it is the best value in terms of return, it is worthwhile.”
Commenting further, Seamus said: “I have a new tanker and dribble bar order so I will be using that more this year and spreading slurry more throughout the grazing season.
“The dribble bar just offers more flexibility. I can spread slurry on a field and cows will still eat the grass.
“It will hopefully also reduce the amount of fertiliser we need in the future on the farm.”
Concluding this Dairy Focus, Seamus commented on some plans for the future and how he would like the farm to develop. He said: “The main focus for the farm is breeding a more economical cow.
“A cow that costs less to keep, but still produces the same amount or more milk.
“I would like to increase numbers to about 70 cows, I’d be happy enough with that number. Farming by myself, 70 cows is more than enough; labour is hard to get and is also expensive.
“The infrastructure on the farm is old, but it is still doing its job. There’s work to be done, mainly around slurry storage.
“There are a few things I would like to change, but we have no plans in place yet,” he concluded.