A virtual farm walk is taking place on James King’s farm at Ballymena, Co Antrim, on Wednesday 10 March 2021.

Most of the 195 cows in the herd have calved down, with 20 cows dry at present and another 10 cows approaching drying off.

As James is now operating a ‘flying herd’, the emphasis on the farm has moved away from rearing dairy heifer replacements to preparing beef-cross calves for sale at around five or six weeks of age.

The initial batch of calves born were sired by Aberdeen Angus bulls, but, more recently, the calves being born are Simmental bred.

James King walked the grazing block earlier this week. Covers that are the depth of your hand are around 3,000kgDM/ha.

A recent review of the performance of the dairy herd showed that almost 75% of the cows were producing over 25l/cow/day. As a result, James is now managing the herd in one group.

For most of the winter, James had the milking herd split in two feeds groups, as there were still a significant number of late lactation cows going through the parlour.

Cows are currently being offered a total mixed ration made up of 38kg grass silage/cow/day and 3.5kg/cow/day of a concentrate blend. This diet is designed to support maintenance plus 20l and cows yielding in excess of this are offered additional in-parlour concentrate.

James plans to review the concentrate feed plan over the next few weeks

The first-cut silage was analysed at a dry matter (DM) of 35%, a metabolisable energy (ME) of 10.9 MJ/kg DM and 17% crude protein. The high dry matter of the forage means that high intakes (around 13kg DM/cow/day) are currently being achieved, which should help on-farm feed efficiency.

James plans to review the concentrate feed plan over the next few weeks to identify any opportunities to further improve the milk yield response from feed.

He also plans to calibrate the in-parlour feeders to ensure that they are delivering the appropriate amount of concentrate.

Tail paint is used to help identify cows in heat and highlight which cows are scanned in-calf

Breeding commenced in late November. Of the 120 cows calved by mid-January 2021, around 110 cows were selected for breeding.

In total, 105 cows have been inseminated at least once and 48 cows have been diagnosed in-calf to date.

Tail paint is used to help identify cows in heat and highlight which cows are scanned in-calf.

Soil analysis

James recently took a series of samples to assess levels of soil fertility on the farm.

Analysis of the results are encouraging, as they showed that 65% of the area sampled had an optimal pH (greater than 6.2), while 75 % of the area sampled had a P index greater than 2+. James also found that 100% of the area sampled had a K index greater than 2+.

A nutrient management plan is being developed for the farm using the crop nutrient management calculator available through DAERA online.

Most of the area allocated for first-cut silage has received an application of slurry and plans are in place to apply fertiliser as 27% nitrogen (N) with added sulphur. James is also planning to apply 44kg N/ha (35 units N/ac) to the grazing block in preparation for turnout.

Getting ready for the grazing season

James recently walked his grazing block to assess grass covers and identify opportunities for turnout this spring.

A group of around 30 cows were turned out to grass in early March 2020 and James felt that this was beneficial, as it was easier to manage subsequent grass covers in April and May, compared with previous years.

Walking the platform has also allowed James to assess paddock fences, gateways and laneways, and identify areas that require maintenance and repairs before cows are turned out.

Ground conditions at the time appeared to be good underfoot and average farm cover was estimated to be 2,400kg DM/ha, with some fields having a cover approaching 3,000kg DM/ha. It was also interesting to note that areas of the farm which had been grazed by sheep until early January had a lower cover of 1,800kg DM/ha.

James plans to continue to monitor grass covers over the next few weeks and when growth rates start to increase, he will select a group of cows that have been scanned in-calf for turnout to grass.

These cows will initially graze for a period of three or four hours a day and James will gradually increase the time spent grazing as the month progresses.

Ask your questions ahead of the webinar

Questions from readers will be answered during the upcoming virtual event on the King family farm.

Speakers include host farmer James King, Dairylink Ireland adviser Aidan Cushnahan and Niall McCarron from Lakeland Dairies.

To ask a question to any of our panellists, email pmccann@farmersjournal.ie or text 0044 0910 6567 before Monday 8 March.

Topics covered during the event include plans for getting cows out to grass, improving soil fertility, soil nutrient management plans and managing grass throughout the grazing season. The virtual farm walk will be broadcast on www.ifj.ie/dairylink on Wednesday 10 March at 8pm. The free webinar will also be available to watch anytime afterwards.

Weekly round-up

  • Ground conditions took a setback on Dairylink farms with heavy rain during the week.
  • Some programme farmers had cows out at grass for a while earlier this week.
  • Thoughts are turning to grazing plans and getting fertiliser spread.