Pics and video: Challenges of switching from a winter to spring milk herd

Two years ago Niall O’Loughlin began to make the switch from a winter to spring milk herd in a bid to increase the profitability of his farm.

Last Wednesday, he opened the gates of his Nurney holding as part of the Teagasc Managing Through 2016 series of farm walks.

Since making the switch to spring milk, O’Loughlin has increased his cow numbers considerably, moving from 140 cows during the pre-quota era to the current level of 200 cows.

And at the farm walk, he said that he plans to increase his herd size further to 220 cows in the coming years.

Why did he make the switch?

Speaking on Wednesday, O’Loughlin said he always wanted to make the switch from a winter to a spring milking herd.

It was something that had been in the back of my mind for a long time.

The Kildare-based farmer said he made the switch as he was making very little money out of winter milk and he seen converting to a spring milk herd as a “great opportunity” to increase the profitability of his business.

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Dealing with a winter milk ‘hangover’

O’Loughlin said that there are still signs of winter milk genetics present in the herd, with a lot of the core Holstein stock still milking.

Before switching to spring milk, O’Loughlin said the herd consisted of 100% Holstein cows, with a number of cows carrying Dutch Holstein genetics.

The herd average EBI was €165 with production levels of 5,700L/cow in 2015 and due to the history of the herd, O’Loughlin said that the milk solids production per cow is lower than he would have liked.

Most of the herd of 200 cows are mostly home bred, he said, with the exception of 35 heifers which were bought in 2014 to build numbers.

Future breeding plan

To deal with the lower than desired milk solids production, O’Loughlin said he has moved away from ‘extreme’ Holstein breeding over the past two years.

And, he has now started to focus on using Friesian and Jersey bulls on his herd of cows.

“Since then [2014] I have been working on EBI, milk protein and solids production. I won’t use a bull with more than 75% Holstein genetics now,” he said.

O’Loughlin also said that 20% of the herd have been bred to Jersey sires over the past two years.

Using Jersey on 20% of the herd is not going to make a huge difference, but it will allow me to see whether it will work or not.

Grassland management

Good grassland management had always been a cornerstone of the business, he said and while he was operating a winter milking system he never owned a diet feeder.

O’Loughlin said that the farm grew 13.5t of grass in 2015 from a Nitrogen input of 250kg N/ha.

At the time of the farm walk, O’Loughlin said that the average farm cover was higher than he would of liked at 637kg of DM/ha or 232kg DM/cow.

But, he hoped to take out four paddocks for silage to resolve this. He added that grass growth rates had been relatively strong on farm two weeks ago, hitting 95kg of DM/ha/day. 

Crowds in attendance at the farm walk
Crowds in attendance at the farm walk

Farm facts:
  • 9.80c/L net profit
  • €534/cow net profit
  • Herd EBI of €165
  • Yield of 5,700L per cow in 2015
  • 13.5t of grass grown in 2015 from 250kg of Nitrogen per hectare
  • 200 cows