North Tyrone dairy farmer Tynan Roulston is proof positive that you don’t need to be farming south of Dublin to make spring calving and producing as much milk as possible from grazed grass feasible options.
He is, in fact, a new entrant into milk, having previously managed a very successful suckler beef operation. This year will see him calve down 72 Friesian cows and heifers: the plan is to increase the milking group up to 80 head, or thereabouts.
“There was a fair bit of investment required to allow the switch from sucklers to dairy cows. This included the installation of a new milking parlour and dairy plus the required work in establishing the paddock network and the new pathways around the farm.
The first cow went through the new milking parlour on May 9th 2019. The objective from the outset was to calve all the cows over a two-month period between the end of February and the end of April.
Having the cows calve down within such a defined time period in the early Spring is critically important when it comes to producing milk from grazed grass.
So far this year I have calved down 46 cows and heifers. All the breeding animals are put to Aberdeen Angus bulls with their calves brought through to beef.
I have an excellent relationship with the Cork dairy farmer, from whom I bought the original batch of cows and he supplies me with the replacement heifers I need as yearlings. They are then put to the bull here and timed to calve down in the early spring.”
Tynan farms on the outskirts of Bready. His grazing area is well laid out in paddocks, providing him with an opportunity to keep cattle out right through until the end of October. Last year the cows averaged 6,500L per cow from 1.4t of concentrate per head.
“I was very satisfied with that level of performance,” he confirmed.
“The last cow was dried off on Christmas Eve, which provided me with an 8-week opportunity to prepare for the start of the 2021 calving season.”
During the dry period the United Feeds Pre-Calver Management programme is followed and the cows are split into close up and far off groups. United Feeds’ Pre-calver nut is fed to the close-up group at 2kg/head along with a stemmy silage that was allowed to grow out specifically with the dry cows in mind.
Tynan has had cows out by day since the middle of March this year. His United Feeds’ advisor, Andrew McMenamin works closely with Tynan to monitor grass availability and intakes.
Both men agree that the recent cold snap has impacted on the swards across the farm however cows are still being turned into swards of 2500kg DM/Ha or higher.
Andrew outlined the performance – “Tynan’s top cows are currently producing 40L of milk per day with heifers averaging 25L. The current milking group are averaging 4.23% Butterfat with Protein at 3.48%.”
“Alongside the grazed grass consumed by day; at night they receive a mix of a good quality 70 D-value second cut silage along with maize silage. I feel the maize silage component of the diet helps hold body condition on the cows as well as improving overall dry matter intakes.
Cows are fed to yield in the parlour with nuts from United Feeds. The current nut being fed is from their ParlourCream range and as we move into fulltime grazing this will then move to a SuperCream ration.
These rations include Bergafat which is high in rumen-protected C16:0 fatty acid to support butterfat production. The protected fat represents a valuable energy source for the cows. In turn, this helps to maintain milk butterfat levels, which can dip when cows have access to high levels of grazed grass for a prolonged period of time.”
When it comes to grassland management, during the peak growing season Tynan assesses sward covers weekly and paddocks that are excess to requirements are taken out and cut for silage throughout the grazing season. This ensures that grass quality is kept optimal and encourages maximum utilisation of the grazing platform.
From a fertiliser point of view, all applications are made on the back of a regular soil testing programme, which is co-ordinated through United Feeds.
This year will see the protected urea, Sustain, used as the only nitrogen source on Tynan’s grassland area. As soil indices are adequate for P & K it was advised to use SustaiN 46% N at ½ bag to the acre and then use SustaiN 38% N & 17%So3 later in spring for a rotation to apply some sulphur. Trials by Teagasc and AFBI have shown that protected urea is just as effective and can grow as much grass as CAN based fertilisers whilst being more cost effective and environmentally friendly.
“Sustain is now a thoroughly proven product under the growing conditions that prevail here in Northern Ireland. Demand for the fertiliser continues to grow,” Andrew McMenamin explained.
Tynan concluded: “Going down the milk from grazed grass route is an approach that has worked for me. In the first instance, it is allowing me to produce milk at least cost whilst seasonal calving also allows me to plan my day in a controlled manner once the calving season is completed. In addition, it ensures that I can take two months off from milking during the winter months.”