Redhouse Holsteins - based in the townland of Derrycreevy, near Benburb, Co. Tyrone - is home to a herd of 170 high-yielding cows, with a major focus on management and genetics.
Alan and Sylvia Irwin and their son David (fourth-generation) oversee the running of the farm along with two full-time employees.
The farm was a mixed dairy; beef; and arable enterprise up until 1974 when the Irwin's cows were lost to Brucellosis.
The family began dairying in 1979 and have maintained a closed herd since purchasing their first foundational females in 1977; additional families have been introduced in the form of embryos only over the last four years.
The 170-cow high-health status Holstein herd averages over 13,016 litres/cow per annum at 4.1% butterfat and 3.3 % protein, with 546kg butterfat per year and 430kg of protein per 305-day lactation (combined total of 976kgs), with an aim to cross 1 ton of CFP per cow.
With a calving interval of 382 days, cows are milked three times a day and milk is supplied to Dale Farm
23 of the Irwin's cows have produced over 100 tons of milk each and they once had the highest yield cow in Northern Ireland - 24,016-litres, 1,537kg of solids with a 305-day lactation.
"The ultimate aim of the farm is to have facilities and cow comfort good enough that all cows can reach 100 tons of milk." David Irwin told Catherina Cunnane of That's Farming.
"Our aim per cow per year is one-tonne of combined fat and protein, which we aren't far away from."
Cow families on the 240-acre farm include Frazzled Jem - number 6 Net Merit heifer in Europe at 946 NM$ and 2734 GTPI (currently being flushed); Helix Rud Zip and Megawatt Cosmopolitan - both currently being flushed with embryos for sale.
Recent investments include the Lead Maes; Oman Mirror; and Larcrest Crimson families and home-bred families include Jem; Jan; Dot; Ida and Isa, among others.
"First and foremost, we need production with maximum kgs of fat and protein but we also want strength right from the chest through to the rump.Our ideal cow-type is a big, strong Holstein that can give a lot of milk and live for a long time."
"The overall goal is to keep fertility and health traits high and to continue to push production," David added.
Bulls that have positive values for kgs fat and protein and have good fertility scores are utilised on the farm, with a viewing to producing a functional cow that can look after herself and produce lots of milk.
Forty heifers are retained as replacements, while in the region of fifty heifers are sold as fresh heifers and an additional sixty heifers are offered for sale as weanlings.
"I use conventional semen on the very best cows of the herd that I am happy to retain bull calves for breeding purposes; these are kept and sold as breeding bulls, around 30 a year; the remaining cows are sexed."
All females born are genomically-tested; the best heifers are flushed and the rest are bred to sexed semen or sold.
“This has been a large investment over this last 6-7 years but we are now reaping the rewards, with a genomic back on a heifer recently placing her joint 17th highest PLI in the UK - she is Redhouse 2060 Curry Kim.”
“We also own the number 4 highest milk, 13th kg protein heifer, 18th kg butterfat heifers in the UK.” David outlined.
Technology and innovation continue to bring this farm - situated in the heart of Northern Ireland - to greater heights.
Additions to the farm include the installation of rumination collars that monitor animal activity and a Unilight LED Lighting system that provides the recommended level of blue spectrum lighting for 18-hours/day.
David highlighted the benefits of the Dairy Light System - increased milk yields; improved cow health and improved what was already reasonably good fertility.
In addition to this, the Irwins have installed two wind turbines - one in 2011 and the other in 2015 - to offset the ever-rising energy costs and reduce the farm's carbon footprint.
In relation to the management of the herd, a nutritionist - Steve Swales - visits the farm every four weeks to review the herd's progress; tweak diets, and to carry out silage testing.
“Nutrition is a very high priority on the farm, as with good nutrition everything else falls into place.”
"Animal health and welfare is the number one priority for us; if our cows are not healthy and happy, they are not going to milk."
"Another aim is to have facilities good enough that we can completely stop using antibiotics, as this will be, sooner or later, forced upon us regardless," David revealed.
Other agricultural work including slurry spreading; silage making and cereal making is completed without outsourcing contractors.
“All work is completed in-house so that silage can be made when the time is right, instead of waiting for contractors, which is of vital importance to maintaining yields at the level they are at.”
Satisfied with the size of their herd, the Holstein breeders will continue to focus on becoming as effective and cost-effective as possible.
Their main focus is to increase cow comfort; increase livestock sales and to utilise superior genetics to improve the genetic merit of their herd, using 100% A.I and ET
"We hope to install better quality mattresses for the cows; we are putting in fans at the moment for ventilation; we need new cow brushes and rubber on the slats."
"We strive to increase the milk yield per cubicle; we want to get the most out of each cow rather than investing in more buildings and keeping more cows, we want to get better, not bigger" David Irwin concluded.
Image source: Redhouse Holsteins
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