Developing a cow with improved fertility and increased milk components that can deliver 8,000 litres from 2t of concentrates is the aim for Bill Brown on his farm near Millisle, Co Down.

Bill wants his herd to produce milk from good-quality silage in winter and from grazed grass throughout the grazing season, while holding body condition and getting back in calf easily.

He plans to deliver this and other objectives, such as better feet and legs and reduced cow size, while not allowing a significant reduction in milk yield.

A change in breeding policy began two years ago by moving away from breeding purebred Holstein Friesian cows to using sires with some British Friesian genetics.

More recently, Bill has introduced Jersey and Kiwi Cross genetics to the herd. The first Jersey-cross calves were born this autumn and plans are in place to use sexed semen from Jersey bull Prop Joe and Kiwi Cross bull Sierra on all maiden heifers this year.

The calf to the right is a Prop Joe daughter and the calf in the foreground is a Maestro daughter.

Sires already selected for cows include Holstein Friesians Lucky Gloss and Maestro and Kiwi Crosses Fire-Up and Supersonic. Around eight sires will be chosen for the 2017/18 breeding season.

Current 12-month rolling averages for yield, percentage butterfat and percentage protein are 8,200 litres, 3.99% and 3.25% respectively.

Sires are being selected with EBIs over 25kg for fat and protein, close to neutral for milk and greater than €100 for fertility.

In August, 15 mostly two-year-old cows were bought in and eight have calved down so far. The cows are mostly three-quarters Holstein Friesian and Bill is pleased with recent milk recording data that shows most are yielding 30 litres or more at over 3.6% protein and 4.5% butterfat.

Farmer focus: Bill Brown, Millisle, Co Down

Calving is over half way through, with 89 cows calving down in five weeks. The calving profile has been tightened in recent years, with breeding delayed and late-calvers culled last year to shorten the calving period from both ends.

We have managed well so far with the increased workload over the busy calving period and I would probably prefer it if the remaining cows calved as quick. Only three cows have required my assistance at calving so far and another three had retained cleanings.

That compares with this stage in calving two years ago when three cows required veterinary assistance at calving, seven had retained cleanings, two had displaced stomachs and there were a few cases of milk fever.

Fewer health issues at calving is being put down to a stronger focus on managing cow body condition throughout lactation and the dry period.

Calvings have been straightforward, as easy-calving EBI bulls have been used on cows which are mostly Holstein-bred and bigger in size.

Maiden heifers have been housed to allow them to settle for breeding at the end of November.

Sensors for the heat detection system are being extended from out-of-parlour feeders to the water trough in the heifer house and all maiden heifers will be fitted with pedometers shortly.

There are 44 heifers to serve this winter. This will begin from the end of November, although a few bigger heifers could be served earlier.

Heifers are on a total mixed ration of third-cut silage and 2kg of a 18% crude protein blend at present.

Late reseeding

Four paddocks were burned off around six weeks ago, but reseeding was delayed due to wet weather.

I managed to carry out a conventional reseed (ploughing, harrowing, drilling) in a seven-acre paddock two weeks ago and another seven acres was reseeded with minimum cultivation (direct drilling) last week. A mixture of the late-heading tetraploid AberGain and diploid AberChoice was used in both paddocks.

Two other paddocks, equating to nine acres, were also burned off for a reseed, but this ground is heavier and won’t be reseeded until the spring. I am glad some of the reseeding was carried out, as grass supply would be under pressure next year if four paddocks were still out of production.

The only stock still at grass on the farm are 31 dry cows that are due to calve in late November or early December.

A local contractor was being used for zero grazing and the milking herd had been receiving a load of fresh grass each day, as well as third-cut silage.

However, zero grazing stopped last week as covers were too heavy and intakes of the long grass were low. Instead, five acres of a heavy cover was cut and baled last week and most of the farm is now closed for winter.

The milking herd is on third-cut and some first-cut silage and an average concentrate feed rate of 7kg/cow/day is being fed through in-parlour and out-of-parlour feeders.

Autumn farm walks

Open days are being held on two Dairylink Ireland programme farms in counties Down and Tyrone in November. A farm walk is being held on Nigel Corbett’s farm at Garvaghy Church Road, Banbridge, Co Down, BT32 3SB, on 7 November from 11am to 1pm.

Robin Clements is hosting a farm walk on 9 November from 11am to 1pm on his farm at Keenogue Road, Trillick, Co Tyrone, BT78 3NY. The events are free to attend and everyone is welcome.

Read more

Watch: difficult final grazing round on Dairylink farms

Watch: maximising on-farm resources on Dairylink farms