Dairy focus: Producing milk all year round with a pedigree Holstein herd in Co. Galway

Farming in Oranmore, Co. Galway, Michael Freeney runs an autumn and spring-calving herd of pedigree Holstein cows.

Currently, Michael is milking 83 cows and – to date – each cow has produced an average 6,859kg of milk, 486kg of milk solids and has a calving interval of 390 days.

His farm recently hosted a winter milk workshop focusing on fertility and feeding of autumn-calving cows.

Michael’s pedigree Holstein herd is relatively young with 30 heifers and this is due to a high replacement rate of 33%.

Speaking at the workshop, he said: “I sold off most of my heifers due to quota restrictions, so that’s why there is not more forth and fifth lactation cows in the herd.

“It’s not that cows don’t last in the herd, I just didn’t want to pay the super levy,” he added.

Therefore, going forward Michael’s cows have great potential to increase yield and milk solids / cow as the herd matures.

George Ramsbottom of Teagasc – who was also speaking on the day – said: “If we keep cows in the herd for longer, there is potential to deliver lots more solids/cow. In order to achieve that potential, there is a need to push fertility.

There is no compromise between spring and autumn-calving herds. The calving interval should be 360-370 days.

“A target is to have 90% of the herd calved in six weeks; this is so cows calve at the right time of the year.

“This should be mid-to-late October for winter-milking herds and February and March for spring-calving herds,” he explained.

For Michael’s Holstein herd, the average number of lactations/cow is three. To get full potential from the herd, Michael plans to increase this figure to 5.5 lactations/cow.

“We want a mature herd without compromising on fertility, compactness of calving and replacement,” George said.

“Fertility has four elements to it; if one fails then fertility suffers. These elements are: mating management; disease control; nutrition; and genetics.

If we want to improve the genetic component of fertility, then bulls with high-fertility traits must be used to sire replacements.

Currently, Michael’s pedigree Holstein herd has a fertility sub-index score of -€39 and the target is to increase it to €80 over the next two generations.

Michael currently has a liquid milk contract for 12% of his total milk production. Selecting bulls with high milk solids will also be important as the remainder of his milk production is paid for on an A+B-C basis.

Feeding the winter-milking cow

In order to achieve high milk yields, dairy cows need to be offered good-quality silage in order to optimise performance.

Therefore, it is important to test silage before feeding, so that the cow’s diet can be formulated correctly.

Michael’s first-cut silage is of relatively good quality at 73% dry matter digestibility (DMD) and 14.3% crude protein (CP). His second-cut silage is equally as good at 73% DMD and 10% CP.

Also speaking on the day was Teagasc’s Joe Patton. He said: “It’s impossible to put together a good milking cow diet when silage quality is poor.

“Harvesting grass for silage after May 20 is really not going to be good enough for winter-milking cows. This is due to stem elongation and seed head formation after this date, which will result in decreased DMD of the silage,” he added.

Speaking on whether the silage ground should be grazed before harvest, Joe said: “If it is grazed tight in the autumn, then it’s alright; but if not, then it needs to be grazed off in early spring to ensure good-quality silage.

“In order to sustain a daily milk yield of 28kg/cow, you need 12kg of 70% DMD silage and 8kg of a balanced concentrate.

“As the silage DMD drops to 60%, you need to feed an extra 2kg of concentrate and milk yield will still drop by about 2kg/cow,” he noted.

As concentrate supplementation increases, the milk yield response to supplementation will decrease.

“When you feed 1kg of concentrate, you get almost a 2kg increase in milk yield. This response decreases to 0.5kg of milk when feeding 10kg of concentrate.

“The diet that gives more energy and protein from forage will always outperform the high-concentrate diet,” he concluded.