Open day and video: Kildare farmers grow milk yields of pedigree herd by 17%
Joe and Kevin Doran are a father-and-son partnership farming 200ac in Donadea, Naas, Co. Kildare. They are milking 130 high-yielding, purebred, Holstein cows averaging an impressive 9,500kg/lactation.
Two years ago, Kevin and Joe were concerned that they were not getting the most from their cows.
“Milk production was not what it should have been and we felt that we were not achieving the full potential from the genetics that we had in the herd.”
To address this and to unlock their full farm potential, Joe and Kevin worked with their nutrition partners Specialist Nutrition and – over that time – have increased milk output by 17%, while reducing the cost of feed per head.
Joe and Kevin will host a farm open day, in conjunction with Specialist Nutrition and its partners Biotal, Vistacell and Milkavit, on May 15. Starting at 11:00am, the day will feature nutritional talks, silage additive applicator demonstrations, a free BBQ and more.
Unlocking animal potential
Working with Specialist Nutrition, the Dorans identified that there were two main issues with milk yield under-performance; these were animal intake and achieving a year-round balanced diet.
Increasing protein intake and maintaining that level throughout the year was a particular challenge that they needed to overcome to achieve this balanced diet.
The Holstein herd was on a winter diet of grass silage, wholecrop triticale and dairy nuts. For the remainder of the year, the diet was balanced with a coarse mix.
Kevin said: “During the winter period, we found it challenging to get enough intake into the cows as they were just eating variable-quality silage and wholecrop in the diet feeder.
“We used a 21% nut as our only source of protein and, as a result, it was difficult to balance the protein for all the cows.”
In order to address this challenge and to ensure their animals met their full milking potential, while working with Specialist Nutrition, the Dorans made two key changes to their herd’s diet.
Firstly they introduced brewers grains, a co-product from the brewing industry. As a highly-palatable feed, with good crude protein and energy density levels, brewers grains works perfectly in their winter diet as it increases animal intakes and provides the protein levels required to maximise their pedigree cows’ performance.
For the remainder of the year, the Dorans use brewers grains in times of poor grass growth to ensure they are achieving a consistently balanced diet.
Kevin added: “Brewers grains is a really good source of protein and we’ve seen our cows’ yields improve, while maintaining our protein and butterfat percentages throughout the year.”
Their new winter diet consists of: high-quality grass and wholecrop triticale silage; brewers grains; and a three-way mix of soya, maize meal and beet pulp in the diet feeder.
Inside the parlour, cows are fed to yield with a 21% nut (ranging from 3kg/day up to 5kg/day).
The second significant change that was made in the Dorans’ herd’s diet was the use of Biotal silage additives, which has resulted in their animals receiving top-class grass and wholecrop triticale silage.
Silage additives work by speeding up the fermentation process, which results in significantly reducing energy and protein losses.
Wholecrop silage, in particular, is susceptible to energy losses due to secondary fermentation and heating throughout the pit.
Typically, farmers loose around 14% of available energy between mowing and feeding out; this could be as low as 4% if managed properly.
Last year, the Dorans used Supersile additive from Biotal on their grass silage and Biotal Wholecrop Gold on their wholecrop silage.
Treating their silage with an additive has preserved their feed better; resulting in higher protein and energy retention, along with increased fibre digestion in both their grass and wholecrop silages.
On this, Kevin said: “Specialist Nutrition examine our silage before we cut to determine the dry matter and sugar levels.
“From there we decide on the type of additive to use and the rate to apply it at. Last year, we used Biotal Supersile as the first-cut grass silage had 24% dry matter content.
“The pit tested very well when opened and that same quality was consistent throughout the pit, which gives us confidence that our animals are getting a consistent diet.”
Overall, since rebalancing their herd’s diet over three years ago, milk output has increased by 17% and their cows are healthier.
In addition, the autumn-calved cows yield averaged 37L/day last winter and proteins were maintained at a steady 3.4% and 3.8% throughout the winter months.
“For us, it’s about getting the most out of our cows and our own forages. By using additives on both our grass and wholecrop silage, we have improved the digestibility of the feed and its nutritional value going into our cows,” Kevin noted.
Unlocking land potential
With better-quality silage being produced on the Dorans’ farm, and less wastage from these home-grown forages, they have been able to reduce the amount of land given over to silage. This has resulted in more grass being available for animals to graze.
In addition, over the bad weather period, they maintained brewers grains in their cows’ diet. This has reduced their dependency on grass and, as a result, they haven’t been forced to put cows out on wet grass.
Kevin added; “We have an excellent working relationship with Specialist Nutrition. As with all farmers, this year we’ve been seriously delayed in getting our cows out on grass.
“So, we’ve worked closely with the logistics team at Specialist Nutrition to secure fresh loads of brewers grains as we need them. This has ensured we haven’t been forced to poach our land.”
Unlocking farmer potential
Through a combination of quality home-grown forages, using Biotal additives and brewers grains, the Dorans have been able to unlock the full potential of their farm.
They’ve been able to increase milk production, while also reducing their feeding costs; resulting in a more profitable farm.
In addition, through the use of co-product, they have a guaranteed source of feed regardless of changing circumstances, along with having high quality silages that have resulted in minimal waste.
This all gives them a great sense of reassurance, as they have protected their business from fodder risks.
“Not only have we increased our yields in the last two years, but we also have an excellent blueprint to move forward with into the future, which means we’ll continue to maximise the potential of our farm,” Kevin concluded.
About Specialist Nutrition
Specialist Nutrition is a leading supplier of alternative moist and liquid feed products, along with offering a range of complimentary nutritional products. With these products and Specialist Nutrition’s expert advice, the company helps farmers around the country to unlock their true farm potential.