As new technologies enter the market every year, more farmers are leaving their old way of dairying and moving towards more progressive techniques.
Today’s young farmer – Oisín Gill from Hollymount, Co. Mayo - has completely enhanced his herd amidst plans to upgrade his parlour and, in turn, the entire way he farms.
Oisín initially completed a Green Cert in Mountbellew Agricultural College, before continuing to complete a business degree from Galway IT.
He then began working on his parents Matt and Noreen’s farm and has been running it alone since his father passed away. Oisin became a farm monitor for the Teagasc & Aurivo farm profitability programme last year and is currently in his second year.
It involves monitoring the management and production of his farm and publishing reports, together with other members of the programme and establish ways to increase milk profitability for all suppliers in the Aurivo region.
During the previous three years, he had a ‘grass pod’ on the farm which is a discussion group of farmers that transfer knowledge on grassland management.
“I’m on a grass-based system here and I'm just trying to get as much milk as I can, so I got into measuring grass,” he said.
Oisín stated that he had always intended to be getting into better grassland management after spending a couple of months working on a farm in New Zealand, where he was inspired to spend more time focusing on the crop.
“When you measure the grass, it's easy to look at the figures and keep the cows in good paddocks all the time”.
The progressive young Mayo man’s herd went through a drastic change in 2016 when he replaced the breed of cow that was being reared on the farm. Oisin removed a third of the herd – "anything that wasn’t in-calf at the time, we got rid of”.
In order to complete the transition, he repeated the same process again in 2017. The herd profile changed from Holsteins to a Jersey-cross-type and high-EBI Friesians.
“It was a fairly drastic thing to do” admitted Oisin, “but it sped up the whole process. If you were waiting for everything to breed, it would be four or five years before you would see any change at all”.
The young herd are only in their first, second and third lactation and they are doing about 410kg of milk solids. Their fat and protein are “well up” from previous years with 3.6% protein and 4.3% butterfat.
Oisín says that consistency is key when it comes to calving his 170-strong herd. He is running a spring-calving system during the months of February and March, with very few into April; breeding takes place in June.
“You have a full dry period then, from Christmas to the first of February, when you start the calving,” he explained.
Jersey-cross cows are AI'd to Friesian sires, while older cows are AI'd to Jersey bulls. There is a 12-week breeding system in place – nine weeks with dairy AI and they will run with a Hereford bull for the remaining three weeks.
Oisín has noticed several positive changes on the farm since the changeover, notably the fertility and the herd’s ability to calf-down in a compact manner.
“We have a fairly dry farm, so we’re able to get them out in February and the fat and protein outputs have jumped significantly – that all leads to your milk quality and prices”.
By making these changes on his farm, Oisín can see the benefit in monetary terms; his income from milk has risen to match the effort he has put in.
“At the moment, milk price is at a base of 30.5c”, he explained, “in 2016, we would have been getting just about the 30.5c, whereas now, we’re getting 35.5c, it’s a huge difference” he explained.
His farm operates on an 18-day rotation with a stocking rate of 3.3cows/ha and he will feed them 2kg of meal; he hopes to sustain his animals on 700kg/cow for the year.
The next work to be completed on his farm is an upgrade of his current 7-unit DeLaval, double-up parlour that, in 2002, that was perfectly good when he was milking approximately 70 cows.
He finds that putting 170 cows through it is tough, and it takes up too much time in his day.
Red tape complications have meant that plans for the new parlour have stalled, so Oisín divides his time in the parlour with Thomas Morris, who also works in the dairy and Oisín said he would be lost without.
“I usually have two lads working with me during the spring, but Thomas is here all the time," he said.
"It takes a full team to operate a farm and you’d be stuck without having a good relationship with you contractors, vets and everybody else, they’re so important,” he concluded.
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