How this top dairy farmer is saving €180,000 in feed bills

When milk quotas were abolished, Cork dairy farmer Donal O’Reilly didn’t just think about expanding his herd – he set about growing extra grass, which he says is worth €180,000 a year to his farm.

Donal believes years of limiting output because of quotas meant the potential of his Watergrasshill farm was not fully realised.

After the quotas were abolished, Donal said he was able to stock more cows and subsequently looked at soil fertility issues to maximise grass growth potential. 

Since joining the Teagasc/Glanbia Monitor Farm Programme in January 2015, milk solids have increased to 450kg, up from 406kg. The milking platform stocking rate was 2.85LU/ha and is now 3.51LU/ha, producing 1109kg of milk solids per dairy hectare in 2017.

In 2014, Donal grew on average 11t DM/ha on his farm and has increased that figure to 15.7t DM/ha in 2017, after addressing soil fertility issues.

Soil testing was carried out shortly after starting the programme, showing that 23pc of his land was in the optimum pH level between 6.2 and 6.5, today 96pc are correct for pH. Donal said he spread three tonnes of lime per acre over the past three years on the milking block to correct pH levels.

The milking platform is 56 hectares and 43pc has been reseeded in the last four years. 

Donal maintains that measuring grass is a very important tool and he is now measuring grass twice weekly at the height of the growing season and about 40 times in a year saying that the extra grass he is now growing is worth €180,000 in feed on his farm.

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Cow Breeding

Traditionally, Donal O’Reilly’s herd was made up of Holstein cows and as soon as Donal heard about the quota abolition, he started to breed for a smaller type cow and for better fertility.

The Watergrasshill, Cork, dairy farmer who farms with his wife Margaret, said that one of his first jobs was to start to weed out the cows that were poor breeders and to only use replacements from cows that held on their first serve of AI.

With the herd size growing, Donal admitted he couldn’t devote as much time to each individual cow and opted for an ‘easy care’ cow.

“We wanted cows that produced more solids and could walk longer distances, a ‘hassle-free’ herd,” he said on a recent Glanbia/Teagasc Monitor Farm Programme open day on his farm.

Today, he is serving all breeding cows and heifers to Jersey, Jersey-cross and Friesian bulls and aims for 30pc Jersey and 70pc Friesian in his herd. Donal does all the AI himself for six to seven weeks, after this a beef bull is let running with the cows for the reminder of the twelve-week breeding season.

Donal said that he’s taking advantage of the benefits of hybrid vigour, producing more solids while also improving fertility in his herd. Cows produced 449kg of milk solids last year compared to 406kg in 2014.

Donal O'Reilly in his milking parlour.Donal O'Reilly in his milking parlour.

Donal O’Reilly in his milking parlour.

Dairy Expansion

The Cork farmer joined the Teagasc and Glanbia Monitor Farm Programme in January 2015 and since has jumped from 105 to 180 cows this year.

To help enable this expansion, Donal started contract rearing replacement heifers in 2017. He said that in the future he only wants milking cows on his farm, which he said will reduce work load as it will be all more streamlined.

The herd has an EBI of €125 and the calving interval in 2017 was 371 days and the herds’ six-week calving rate was 88pc. All of Donal’s heifers are calved down between 22 and 26 months.

All cows are subject to pre-breeding recording and a vasectomised bull is left running with the main herd for the first four weeks of breeding when the cows are being served with AI. Donal uses Sire Advice to select bulls for breeding and uses Jersey, Jersey cross and Friesian bulls for the first four weeks.

Beef straws are used for a further three weeks and a beef bull is let clean up the remaining cows that weren’t put in calf.

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