Dairylink prepares for farm walks

31st March 2016

Dairylink prepares for farm walks

Dairlylink advisor Conail Keown previews the first of the Dairylink farm walks on Kevin McGrade's farm on Wednesday 6 April.

Three farm walks will be held on Dairylink project farms in April. Kevin McGrade, Dromore, Co Tyrone, hosts the first walk on Wednesday 6 April, Bill Brown, Millisle, Co Down, is on 12 April and Charles Clarke, Bailieborough, Co Cavan, is on Friday 15 April.

The purpose of the farm walks is to offer visitors a quick insight into each farm, meet the host farmer, discuss current performance around cows and grass and outline the management plans for the next couple of weeks.

As part of the Dairylink project, each farm has a business plan completed for the next three years and this will be discussed at the walks, with the projected cash surplus to be generated by each farm on display – particularly relevant considering where milk price is.

Every farm has strengths, weaknesses, challenges and opportunities – the Dairylink project farms are no different. The farm walks will offer a quick overview of each farm and outline each farmer’s plans for the future to build profitable and sustainable dairy businesses into the future. Each walk starts at 11am and will be finished by 1pm.


Parking at Kevin McGrade’s farm is limited, so a shuttle bus will operate from the car park opposite Brian Keys New Holland Tractors on the Omagh Road, Dromore, BT78 3AJ.

Kevin McGrade, Dromore, Co Tyrone, Wednesday 6 April, 11am–1pm

Outline of farm

Daily herd performance is running at 20 litres/cow/day, with a current concentrate feeding level of 4kg/cow.

Last week, cows were on/off grazing for three days. Cows on this autumn-calving farm are over their peak yield and will be sustained on good-quality spring grass with minimal meal feeding, but land needs to dry up first.

With 55% of total milk production produced during winter months when cows are housed, the quality of grass silage is very important for Kevin. Ensuring forage quality is optimal (greater than D value of 70) is critical for the herd if supplementary feed costs are to be minimised.

Ten years ago, Kevin focused his breeding policy on milk components, with a significant improvement since then.

He recently decided to target cow fertility when selecting sires. An analysis in 2003, showed an average herd butterfat and protein of 3.81% and 3.12% respectively. However, targeted breeding using EBI indexed bulls with high milk solids has improved milk solids to the current annual herd average of 4.61% butterfat and 3.53% protein – a total of 541kg milk solids per cow.

Farm facts

Calving started on Kevin’s 128-cow autumn-calving herd in the last week of August, with heifers calving first. Over 90% of cows calved in 15 weeks before 20 December.

Breeding began on 22 November for heifers and 1 December for cows, with sire selection focused on high-fertility and milk-solid sires.

Breeding and sire selection is treated as a key area on the farm; getting the cow type correct is a primary objective for Kevin. The cow must be fertile and deliver high levels of milk solids, with sires selected to deliver +20kg of milk solids and with an EBI for fertility sub-index greater than €150.

Milk volume is not a priority when it comes to selecting bulls. Kevin feels that breeding more fertile cows will result in higher milk yield anyway, as calving interval decreases.

Grass management

Kevin is farming a total of 67ha with heavy clay-type soil in an area of relatively heavy rainfall. The farm averaged 9.3t DM/ha on the grazing platform for 2015, which was lower than the five-year average for this farm.

The grazing platform of 58ha is stocked at 2.2 cows/ha, with surplus grass taken as baled silage.

A good network of farm roadways and fencing is in place, allowing Kevin flexibility when selecting paddocks for grazing.

Weather and ground conditions are a continuous threat, with a 30-day variation in total grazing days over the past three years.

Work routine

Kevin takes on most of the daily workload on the farm and some seasonal work, including slurry spreading and collecting bales, with help from his son Mark, who is studying at Greenmount College. A local contractor is used to bale and wrap big bales.

A recent investment in a 20-point milking parlour and cow segregation and handling area has helped with the daily routine. Future investment is likely to be focused on land improvements, such as drainage and fencing, and other improvements in grazing infrastructure.

Planning ahead

Planning ahead on Kevin’s farm is undoubtedly about maximising the resources available.

Pushing ahead with output is an option, but it must be efficiently achieved and ultimately come from better grass management and improved forage quality.

Milk solids will continue to improve. They are delivering 10% of total milk sales revenue at the moment. Improving herd fertility and the associated benefits from this of increased output from milk and stock sales is another obvious avenue to focus on.

Central to the farm’s plans for the future is grass growth, ensuring soil fertility is optimal and a continuous reseeding policy is in place are key aspects of management for Kevin.

This article has been reproduced with the kind permission of the Irish Farmers Journal. Please click on the below Irish Farmers Journal logo to be brought to additional dairy articles

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