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Streamlining the spring workload in dairying

Monitor farmers are critical to demonstrate good farming practice to other dairy farmers in the region. Here Mark Treacy, features a profile of one monitor farm: The Buttimer family, who are dairy farming in Ballineen, Co. Cork. Mark outlines how labour is efficiently planned for the calving period

The Buttimer Farm

Stephen and Hillary are farming in Ballineen with their two sons Brian and Ethan. They milk 117 cows through a 16-unit parlour and supply Lisavaird co-operative. The farm in total is 84 hectares and the cow grazing area is 42ha, giving a milking platform stocking rate of 2.78cows/ha. There is also 8 ha of tillage. The herd EBI is €179 and the replacement heifers are €206. The herd supplied 525kg of milk solids per cow to Lisavaird Co-op in 2021 at 4.08% fat and 3.45% protein. The replacement heifers are reared on the farm. It is a spring calving herd with 89% of the herd due to calve in 6 weeks this spring. Their Teagasc dairy advisor is Mark Treacy from Teagasc in Clonakilty.

Key Activities for January

The Buttimer’s are planning for the highest labour demand period of the year with spring calving due to start in late January. 83 cows and heifer are due to calve in the first 3 weeks. Recently they walked through every aspect of the workload with their Advisor Mark Treacy to see where they can reduce the number of labour hours needed each day and streamline everything to make this busy period easier to manage. Some key points to emerge from this discussion are listed below.

Cows near calving will be housed separate to the main herd and will have reduced access to silage during the day. Silage will be fed in the late evening. They have used this in the past and it has been successful in reducing the calving’s between midnight and 6 in the morning. Cows will be drafted to this calving shed every few days.

Freshly calved cows will be kept in a separate group and milked last until their milk is fit for the milk tank, then they will join the main milking group.  Calves will stay in individual pens for as short a time as possible (until they are trained to drink), before going into a group pen. There is less time required feeding calves in group pens compared to individual pens.

Bull calves will be sold younger than past years. They will make less money, but when one adds up the cost of the feed and labour hours gone into them it’s at best a break even situation.  The replacement heifer calves will be fed once per day from 4 weeks of age. This will be done separate to milking time.

Ethan and Brian (both at school) will have full responsibility for certain jobs, so everyone helping will know what to do and there will be no time wasted.

Milking once a day: The herd will be milked once per day for the first month, in the late afternoon. There will only be a small reduction in overall yield for the year, as the period is at the start of lactation. This will have the biggest labour saving. Fresh milk for young calves will be held overnight for feeding the following morning.

All calf and calving houses are washed out, disinfected and ready for the season. Calving jack, ropes, navel disinfect, tags and other supplies are in place and have a place for storage in the areas they are needed.

Advisor Profile: Mark Treacy from Teagasc in Clonakilty is the farm advisor to the Buttimer family.

Teagasc Advisors write regular articles of interest to farmers here on Teagasc Daily.  Teagasc provides a Local Advisory and Education service to farmers. Find your local Teagasc office here