Optimising breeding and dairy nutrition on a Co. Louth farm
Donal and Gerry McElroy farm in partnership on a 72ha milking platform in Carrickallen, Kilkerley, Co. Louth. Donal has been farming here in conjunction with his father Gerry for the past number of years.
The McElroys milk 230 Holstein-Friesian cows on a 72ha milking platform. The herd has an average milk yield of 7,500L and a herd EBI of 92.
Last year, fats averaged 4.38% and proteins 3.57%. Since 2018, the replacement heifers are contract reared by a local farmer. All the remaining calves are sold off the farm.
Over the past 10 years, Donal and Gerry have crossbred Jerseys into the herd, just with the high-yielding Holstein. 90% of the herd is spring calving with the remaining 10% calving in autumn.
“Historically, a larger proportion of the herd would have been calving in autumn so that we would have a year-round production of milk, but this has been reduced in recent years,” Donal stated.
In terms of calving, Donal is pleased with this year’s results on the farm.
“We were very happy with calving on the farm this year. The mild spring weather was a huge help and the reduced strain on winter forage supplies also helped significantly.
“Last year, we had to feed silage in the diet right into April. In comparison, this year they were out day and night in February, meaning that there was a lot more grass in the diet.”
Donal and Gerry are keen to maximise efficiencies when it comes to breeding.
“Breeding generally starts in the last week of January for the autumn calvers in late October, but we don’t usually start until May 4 for the spring herd,” Donal admitted.
Donal and Gerry AI the herd for five weeks and then introduce a Hereford stock bull to the herd. They continue to AI any cows that come bulling with Belgian Blue straws, just so we are fully covered.
Donal selects bulls primarily on fertility and kilograms of fat and protein and EBI to a lesser extent.
“I have used jersey bulls with minus figures for milk and crossed them with the high-yielding Holstein cows; they can still produce lots of milk between 6,000L to 7,000L.”
Performance and nutrition
Last year, Donal used GAIN Spring Breeder in the herd and found that it worked extremely well for his herd.
“I was very happy with the submission rates and resulting conception rates. We give the cows 4kg of GAIN Spring Breeder.”
Currently, Donal is using GAIN Spring Starter with his herd. “We feed the cows 5kg of GAIN Spring Starter and it keeps the cows in great condition.
The cows are averaging 32L at the minute. This is why we use GAIN Spring Starter as we have a high-production herd. It helps to maintain and improve our yields.”
Donal feels that using both of these GAIN products is part of the overall process on his farm to improve submission rates and make sure that his herd are in optimum condition for the breeding season.
“Using GAIN Spring Starter and GAIN Spring Breeder is a pivotal part of making sure that we are operating in the most efficient way.
“Having better fertility in the herd, having a more compact calving, getting better at noticing cows that are bulling and nutrition are all key areas when it comes to maximising the chances of a successful breeding season.
“When these areas are worked on and addressed, we will see an improvement,” he stated.
Important role of minerals
GAIN business manager, Pat Treacy, who has been working closely with the McElroys for the past 10 years, states that “the major challenge facing dairy farmers” over the next two months is getting cows back in-calf.
Reproductive efficiency is a function of nutrition intake, management, output and genetics. A high-submission rate together with high-conception rates is essential.
He further explains that “before and during the breeding season it’s essential to ensure the nutrient intake of the cow is adequate to meet her needs”.
“By feeding GAIN Spring Breeder you are meeting the cows’ energy requirements, building the immune system and optimising fertility performance,” he said.
Pat highlights the importance of minerals in the run-up to and during the breeding season.
GAIN Spring Breeder contains Sel-Plex organic selenium and Bioplex copper and zinc to help maintain a healthy immune system, lower SCC and have great bio-availability to help support fertility.
“It’s important to note that we use highly-digestible, high fibre ingredients in GAIN Spring Breeder to help increase the cows overall intake.
“It fights against the issue of low butterfat’s on spring grass, versus using high levels of rapidly fermentable ingredients such as wheat.”