Hollybank Farm is owned by the father and son duo of Stephen and David Cargill, who run 150 pedigree Holsteins under the Hollybank prefix.
Located on the outskirts of Parkgate, Co Antrim, the farm extends to 400 acres, 230 acres of which are owned, with the remainder being rented.
When it comes to herd management, the Cargills are at the top of their game and last week, the farm opened its gates to the public as part of a National Milk Recording (NMR) event.
The farm was purchased in 2013. Since then, there has been a major remodeling of the dairy unit, which includes expanding and upgrading housing facilities as well as building the herd.
Prior to purchasing the farm, neither David nor his father were actively farming. Both men nevertheless had the desire to get back into the sector, and favored dairying over other enterprises.
With David having a background in engineering, the farm business has been built on precision planning – few things are left to chance.
The 150-cow herd averages 11,200 litres annually and has been milk recorded since its second year in operation.
Despite the high levels of output, milk quality has not been impacted. The herd averaged 4.25% butterfat and 3.45% protein last year at 130 SCC, giving 888kg of milk solids per cow.
Currently, cows are yielding 38 litres/day at 4.15% butterfat and 3.4% protein, with the herd milked three times per day throughout the year.
The consistency of achieving high output, along with good solids, was recognised earlier this year, with the Cargill family winning Lakeland Dairies’ ‘Supreme milk quality award’ across 3,200 family farms.
With cows milked in a three times per day operation, nutrition is a critical element to maintaining yields and retaining animals in the herd by getting cows back in-calf.
Although the herd is managed in a contained system, cows produce around 4,000 litres of milk from forage.
“We have moved to a multi-cut silage system and try to get five cuts taken over the year. First cut is harvested at the start of May, with 220 acres going in the pit,” David said.
“We take second cut around four to five weeks later, with the same interval between the third and fourth cut. We try to get 80 acres of a fifth cut as bales, but the weather makes this hard to do.
“Second cut is also 220 acres, but third cut is reduced to 180 acres, and the fourth cut scaled back again, with more grass being diverted to young stock.
“There is also 70 acres of whole-crop winter rye grown on farm, along with 40 acres of winter wheat, with the grain crimped and straw used on farm.
“All field work is done by the contractor and since we moved to the multicut system, forage quality has significantly improved,” David outlined.
Silage is tested regularly throughout the year and concentrates are tweaked to provide a balanced diet for cows.
Cows are currently eating 20kg per day of second-cut silage as part of a total mixed ration (TMR) diet. The forage analysed at 43.3% dry matter, 75.8 D-Value, 12.1 ME (energy) and 16.1% protein.
Silage is tested regularly throughout the year and concentrates are tweaked to provide a balanced diet
The TMR also consists of 10kg of whole-crop rye, giving a total forage dry matter intake of 12kg/day, then balanced with crimped wheat, soya, maize meal, straw pellets, molasses and water.
A custom blended mineral is also included and cows get topped up in the parlour with a 16% protein pellet, fed through a feed-to-yield system.
From the outset 10 years ago, David said streamlining the workload on farm has been at the centre of the farm’s operation.
Sheds have been rebuilt to accommodate machinery for ease of cleaning, and contractors are employed for all major operations.
Cows are fed using two Lely Vector units, rather than the more conventional diet feeder method.
“I would say the Vectors have been one of the best investments made on farm. The robots run three mixes per day, seven days per week.
“When we were doing the mix ourselves with the diet feeder, it was taking close to four hours per day from start to finish.
“That took up more than 24 hours a week, as well as tying up a tractor on the feeder. With the Vector feeders, that’s four hours a day to spend on other tasks.
“The machines go throughout the day to feed cows, keeping the forage at the feed face fresh. That keeps intakes high, so there is no waste to be scraped out.”
Other areas where automation has reduced workload is on the calf-rearing side, with all animals reared on automatic feeding stations.
The herd calves all year round for a more even milk flow, with David preferring this option over block-calving in autumn and spring.
Cows are bred to AI with sexed Holstein semen on the first and second service. Should a third service be required, cows get Angus semen. Heifers are served to an Angus stock bull for ease of management.
“As we calve all year round, we have heifers coming at all stages of the year. Some months it can be three heifers, the next month could see eight heifers.
“I just find running heifers with the bull more time-efficient, allowing me to focus on getting the cows served.”
Heat detection is carried out using an electronic bolus, which also monitors rumination and general cow health.
Some months it can be three heifers, the next month could see eight heifers
The bolus is linked to a smartphone and sends notifications for inseminating. Cows are pregnancy scanned every three weeks.
As the future of the Hollybank herd starts with the calves born on farm, there is significant focus placed on calf rearing.
A new purpose-built rearing shed was recently constructed, with group pens and automatic feeders installed.
Ventilation is controlled using clear plastic side panels, which can rotate 90 degrees to fully open or close.
The shed roof also allows plenty of natural light into the building.
The shed design allows a telehandler to clean out bedding in group pens with ease – a task that is completed twice weekly.
“If we get the calves off to the best possible start, their lifetime performance increases and we get more milk in return, so it is worth putting the time in to calf management.”
David plans to expand the herd to between 180 and 190 cows. The farm currently has two full-time staff, one part-time employee, and gets extra help for night milking.
Expanding to 190 cows is possible without requiring additional labour. There is adequate cubicle capacity for such numbers, but the heifer rearing accommodation is being upgraded to cope.
“I also see the farm venturing down the road of growing protein crops to use as home-grown feed, possibly at the expense of the whole-crop rye, to reduce the amount of purchase feed we use,” he explained.