Farm focus: Milking 355 cows in the midlands

The past presidents of Macra na Feirme, Michael and Catherine Gowing, run a spring-calving dairy enterprise in Scorduff, Co. Offaly.

Hailing from a winter milk-producing farm in Co. Laois, Michael Gowing purchased the 290ac farm in 2007. In the intervening years, he has grown the herd to 355 Friesian cows and brought in additional land through leasing.

Michael admitted that he likes a big, functional and fertile cow and his focus remains on the Friesian breed.

Last year, the Gowings milked 325 and these cows delivered 2.2 million litres of milk to the creamery – that’s an average of 6,769L sold/cow. All of the cows are milked through a 28-unit herringbone parlour.

Whole milk only for calves

Michael stressed that he is a firm believer in using whole milk to feed calves.

“I feed a lot of milk to calves. If you feed them well when they’re young, they will pay you back when they’re older.”

Given the growth in the herd in recent years and further plans to increase cow numbers, the Gowings retain approximately 100 heifer calves each year – all of which are Friesian.

“I don’t believe in milk replacer milk,” Michael added. “My herd is screened for Johnes Disease and it’s clear so I will continue to feed whole milk to calves.”

Some of the replacement heifers on Gowings’ farm

A busy spring

Given the scale of Gowings’ enterprise, spring can be a particularly busy time. Some 90% of the cows in the herd will calve within a six-week window and January looks set to be a very busy month on the farm.

The cows are due to start calving from January 1 and 260 of the 355 cows are expected to calve within the first 21 days of the month.

When asked why he calves so early in the year, Michael stated that it’s a throw back to the days of winter milk production on his previous farm.

Feeding 355 cows

Michael added that he is not afraid to supplement cows when early-spring grazing isn’t an option.

“You have to look after your cows, whether that’s through nutrition, management or the facilities on your farm.

“You can feed your cows well and still leave a profit. It’s all about the margin-over-feed cost and how much profit putting in the additional feed will leave at the end of the day.

Attention to detail is also important. Dairy farming is hard and you have to be prepared to work. But, most importantly, you have to look after your cows.

“If you look after your cows, they will look after you. You need to farm to your capabilities and all inputs should be judged on the profit they return,” he said.

Eornagold is used as an alternative feed on Gowings’ farm

Given the location of Gowings’ farm, getting out to grass early in the spring isn’t always possible. So, to maximise the performance he provides freshly-calved cows with alternative feeds. These include distillers grains, whole crop and grass silage.

Eornagold, the distillers grains used on the farm, is supplied by Specialist Nutrition and is produced from spent grains and evaporated syrup from the whiskey distillation process.

Gowing feeds the product at a rate of 5-8kg/cow/day, alongside grass and wholecrop silage to provide the cows with an alternative energy and protein source.

During the autumn months, once grass starts to deteriorate, Gowing also introduces a buffer feed with Eornagold in order to maintain yield and milk solids.

Dairy breeding

The Offaly-based farmer pays great attention to breeding and AI is used during the early part of the eight-to-nine week breeding season before stock bulls are introduced to clean up.

We breed all the cows to Friesian AI during the first four weeks of the breeding season. After this, we start using beef AI from Limousin, Belgian Blue and Hereford bulls.

“Stock bulls are used during the final three weeks of the breeding season and breeds include Belgian Blue, Limousin, Angus, Hereford, Simmental and Speckle Park,” he added.

All of the cows in the herd are ran as one group of 355 cows, which is managed by Michael and two other full-time employees on the farm.