Dairy Focus: Using night-time feeding to great effect in Co. Meath

Farming just outside Lobinstown in Co. Meath you’ll find the Evans family – Gordon and his four sons Conor, Harry, Sam and Ryan. The family operate a spring-calving dairy system on 108ha, with 200 cows due to calve over the coming weeks.

AgriLand spoke with Harry, who is currently in third year of the sustainable agriculture course in DKIT. Harry and his brothers are the fourth generation on the farm.

Harry is also involved with the DKIT ag society that recently raised €6,360 for Pieta House, North Louth Hospice and Home Care.

He said: ”We operate a spring-calving dairy system with a small bit of beef, my dad is in charge of the day-to-day running of the farm with mam in charge of the most important part, the finances.

”Working alongside my dad, we have a full-time staff member that started earlier this year.

Myself and my brothers are all involved with the farm, mainly on a part-time basis as we are either working full-time or in college/school.

”When my great-grandfather came here first it was your typical mixed farm, with a small bit of everything. He was a butcher by trade so he also operated an abattoir and butcher shop from the farm.

”My grandfather chose to focus on the dairy when he inherited the farm from his parents.

”The farm is spilt into three blocks, with two blocks totalling 80ha used for the grazing platform and silage. The home block is split by the main Adree to Kells road, which means grazing across the road can be difficult so we mainly use across the road for silage.

”The third block is about two miles away, with that block being used for rearing our heifers and grazing for the beef stock.

”Last year we kept 45 beef calves to graze on the block with the heifers and we plan on selling them in the coming weeks as yearlings.

”That block is too big for the heifers and we don’t need the silage so we will most likely do that again this year.”

Building cow numbers

Speaking about how the farm has expanded in terms of cow numbers, Harry explained: “Over the last number of years the herd size has increased and we have begun to focus more on the grass. We used to be a pedigree Holstein herd, but we have started crossbreeding to improve fertility and milk solids (ms).

”For the last number of years, we’ve been milking 160 cows, but this spring we have 200 due to calf.

”Going forward we are planning on still crossbreeding some of the cows, but we will mostly likely use more high economic breeding index (EBI) Friesian. We are planning on becoming more selective about the bulls we use on cows.

”With the aim being that we are breeding replacements from our best cows, which will improve the herd’s performance and fertility further.

”We started using Aubrac bulls last year on some of the late calving cows to add more value to the calves, with these calves due near the end of the calving season.

With increasing cow numbers we have gotten tight for housing so we are currently building a new 80-cubicle shed, which will be finished later this year.

”We are currently milking in a 16-unit swing-over parlour with automatic cluster removers (ACR’s) and a drafting gate, we have no plans to change it in the near future.”

Herd performance

Talking about the herd’s performance, Harry noted: ”Last year the herd produced 440kg of ms from 550kg of meal, with the aim being to surpass that this year.

”Our herd’s average EBI is €120, which we are a little disappointed with. Our in-calf and bulling heifers are close to €200. We have a few older cows that are bringing down our average, so when these cows leave the herd we should see the figures increase.

”We grew 10t of dry matter on the grazing platform last year. We are very much focused on grass now with the aim to kept improving our grass growth year-on-year.

”We plan on achieving this by better grassland management, reseeding poor performing paddocks and following our nutrient manage plan.”

Calving season

The calving season on the farm is well underway. There are 45 cows calved already with 80% due to calf in six weeks with all the cows due to calf within 12 weeks.

Talking about the calving season, Harry added: ”We have the calved cows out at grass using on-off grazing, the ground is holding up well so far. We planned ahead during the autumn to ensure we had our drier paddocks available for early grazing this spring.

”To try and reduce the workload a bit during the calving season, we started feeding silage at night time, which we have found reduces the number of night-time calvings. There was 11 calves born yesterday and three already this morning.

When calves are born they get 3-4L of colostrum straight away, we then tag them so we know they’ve been fed.

”Calves are put into individual pens for the first few days, then once they are able to drink on their own we then move them to a group pen of 10 calves.

”We keep the calves in these groups of 10 until they go out to grass, we find it works well, it reduces the mixing of calves and possibility of spreading disease.

”In the last few years we have switched from feeding whole milk to calves to milk replacer, we are currently feeding a replacer with 24% protein and 20% fat.

”We switch to milk replacer due to the possible disease risk associated with feeding calves whole milk, along with that the calves growth performance should be better.

”Since we switched that has definitely been the case, our calves are performing much better on milk replacer.”

The future

Looking to the future, Harry said: ”We are aiming for between 220 to 250 cows, it will all depend on how efficient we become at growing and managing grass on the platform.

”I’d like to think that there will be at least three of us [brothers] farming here in the future, it will all depend on how the farm develops and who wants to stay involved.

”The next big thing that may be changed on the farm is possibly the milking parlour. I think if we were changing the parlour we would look at robots or possibly even a rotary. That is a few years down the line if we feel it is necessary.”