For this week’s Dairy Focus, Agriland made the trip to the Wee county to meet with Barry Callan on his family’s dairy farm just outside Ardee.
The Co. Louth farm is operated by Michael and his three son Sean, Conor and Barry, along with Joe who has worked on the Callans farm for over 20 years.
The Callans are milking 480 cows on seven Lely robots, with 130 cows milked on the home farm and 350 milked on the out-farm.
The home farm is operated as a split-calving system, while the out-farm is spring calving.
Crossbreeding was implemented in the herd, but the Callans have now moved away from that and are using more Friesian and Holstein genetics.
“We are trying to breed a 7,000L cow producing at least 600kg of milk solids. We have found that type of cows suits our farm the best and the system we operate,” Barry said.
“Not every cow suits the robots, slow milkers can use up a lot of time. Our average cow takes eight minutes to milk, but some can take up to 20 minutes.
“Because of this milking speed has become a major focus of our breeding programme in recent years.”
A mixed farming system was operated on the farm for many years, with dairy, beef and tillage enterprises.
In 2011 the decision was made to focus on dairy farming, although a small tillage operation remains.
The Callans started milking on the out-farm in 2011 in a 30-unit herringbone parlour.
But, like many dairy farms, they were finding it increasingly difficult to find people to milk.
Then in 2016 Michael had a farm accident, which put him out of action for a number of months. The family then started looking into robots and transitioned both farms to robots in 2017.
The Callans now have seven robots on the two farms, with Barry stating that: “We definitely wouldn’t look at anything else now.”
The calving and breeding season are two of the most labour-intensive times on dairy farms. To offset some of the labour requirements, the Callans introduced a synchronisation program.
Giving some insight, Barry said: “We were using tail paint and scratch cards, but we weren’t overly happy with the result we were getting.
“We synchronised the heifers for the first time about seven years ago and we were very happy with the results.
“The following year we synchronised the cows as well and we been doing it ever since.”
Commenting further, Barry said: “What we really like about it is how much it reduces the workload. Although it is a busy period when you’re doing the programme, once we have everything AI’d [artificially inseminated] we put out beef stockbulls. The labour input for the breeding season is then over.
“We also like that we have all our heifer calves born in a short period and then they are a nice even group.”
A synchronisation programme is used on both the cows and heifers on the farm, with the Callans having great results.
Giving some more insight into the programme, Barry said: “It can be a bit hectic when the programmes are taking place and we generally run the heifers 10 days before the cows.
“So we are not doing everything at the same time, but once you’ve the programmes completed our labour for the breeding season in over.
“That allows you to focus on other jobs that need to be done on a dairy farm.
“Any cows that held their cleaning or had a hard calving is checked before breeding. Anything that is still a bit ‘iffy’ doesn’t go on the programme.”
The programme for heifers is eight days:
- On day zero the heifers get Receptal and progesterone inserted;
- On day five Estrumate;
- On day six Estrumate again the progesterone insert is removed;
- 48 hours later they get artificially inseminated (AI) with another shot of Receptal.
A slightly different programme is used on the cows.
The programme for cows is ten days:
- On day zero the cows get Receptal and progesterone insert is put in;
- On day seven Estrumate;
- On day eight eight Estrumate and the progesterone insert is removed, 32 hours later they get Receptal;
- 16 to 22 hours later they get AI.
Continuing, Barry said: “There is generally two people serving cows and two or three more loading straws for them.
“We would keep an eye on the first repeat to give the bulls a hand and we would AI a few cows – just because of the sheer number of cows and heifers that come into heat.
“We have been using Aubac and Angus bulls mainly. There are 13 bulls altogether, with the A,B,C grazing system we have a bull in each paddock and [we] rotate them every few days.
“We have 450 sexed dairy straws ordered and 100 beef straws ordered so we are going to be more selective this year.
“We have seen a major benefit of using the sexed semen. The way the trade for calves is, you are better selling a heifer calf than a bull calf.”
Conception rates being achieved are excellent, with calving starting at the end of January and only 15 cows remaining when we visited the farm.
“Conception rates are improving each year, a lot of it can depend on the weather,” Barry said.
“If you get a couple of weeks of bad weather during the programme it doesn’t help. Last year we got 58% with the heifers on the programme, that was with sexed semen as well.
“Conception rates for the cows was a little bit lower at 55%. Last year we used all sexed semen on heifers and 80% sexed on cows, this year we are going to use 100% sexed semen.”
Other than the benefits during the breeding season, the use of a synchronisation programme has benefits during the calving season.
The programme increases the number of cows calving in a short period and again, reduces the labour demand.
“For the first 10 to 14 days you have at least 25 cows calving/day, the most we had this year was 40 in a day,” Barry said.
“Even with the programme you’re still looking at a three-week period where cows are calving.
“You do get a bit of lull between the programme and repeats where you get another burst of calves.”
Giving some insights into the benefits of operating the programme, Barry said: “Having an even bunch of calves is a major benefit, from a management point of view.
“Between the youngest and oldest calf there is only about three weeks. There is rarely a heifer that we have to pull out because they are too small for the bulls.
“The labour at calving is also a major benefit; you have a few intense weeks of calving, but once that is over you have a good bulk of the cows calved.
“You also have a lot of milk coming from the start, which works well for using milking cows on robots.
“We believe that the benefits you get from operating the programme outweigh the cost of it.”
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