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Cork Dairy Farmer wins National Dairy Heifer Rearing Competition

Cork dairy farmer Shane Fitzgerald of Garrycahera, Ballynoe, via Mallow, Co. Cork is the winner of this year’s Heifer Rearer of the Year Competition. The announcement was made at the National Ploughing Championships in County Laois today by the EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan.

The Competition aims to reward farmers who have already adopted rearing strategies to maximise a heifer’s lifetime performance. The 2015 Heifer Rearer of the Year Competition was sponsored by Volac and supported by Teagasc, The Irish Farmers’ Journal and both CAFRE and AFBI from Northern Ireland.

Over forty dairy farmers from Northern Ireland and the Republic entered the Competition. Ten farmers were shortlisted across five regions: Cork, Southwest, Midlands and South East, North West and Northern Ireland. Nine regional winners will each receive half a tonne of Volac calf milk replacer. The overall winner will receive a Volac Forster Technik automatic calf feeder.

Shane Fitzgerald is currently milking 215 dairy cows and rearing approximately 80 yearling and 80 weanling heifers. The Fitzgerald family has a highly fertile herd with most cows compactly calved during February. A carefully planned animal health programme is being implemented by the family to minimise the risk of disease spread. This includes employing a dedicated overnight calver during February; ensuring that all calves receive 4 litres of colostrum within 30 minutes of birth. It also includes an annual blood screening programme for the herd. Calves are turned out to grass after weaning at approximately 70-75 days of age and meal feeding is phased out by the end of May. The stocking rate on the milking platform is currently over 3 LU/ha and plans are in place to increase herd size further to 260 cows in 2016.

Speaking at the announcement of the winners, Pat Cahill of Volac said, ‘Getting heifers off to the best possible start in life can pay dividends in terms of your herd’s future potential, with growth rates in the first three months of a heifer’s life impacting heavily on age at first calving and subsequent milk yields. Volac is happy to support initiatives that raise the profile and standards achieved in heifer rearing and to that end Volac is rolling out a new initiative, ‘Feed for Growth’ programme to help farmers optimise heifer rearing.’

According to competition judge George Ramsbottom, Teagasc; ‘The standard of stockmanship exhibited by all of the finalists in the competition was remarkable. The quality of heifer rearing in the country is improving rapidly with the percentage of heifers calving at two years of age increasing by 10% to 58% over the past 4 years. Clearly further improvements are required and achievable and Teagasc is happy to support initiatives that shine a light on best practice in heifer rearing’.

Andrew Brown, AFBI judge in the competition, commented; ‘the attention to detail, knowledge and application of latest research findings by the finalists was most impressive. The heifer rearing period has a major influence on lifetime performance and the heifer rearing strategies implemented on the winning farms will ensure heifer will achieve their full genetic potential.’

The regional winners were:

  • Pat Walsh, Duncormick, Wexford
  • Tom Walsh, Johnstown, Kilkenny
  • Liam and Catherine Mellerick, Fethard, Tipperary
  • Michael and Mary Ita McCarthy, Feenagh, Limerick
  • James O’Callaghan, Leamlarra, Cork
  • Aidan and Mary Reardon, Ballinhassig, Cork
  • Dermot Sherry, Drumhillock, Monaghan
  • Beattie Lilburn – Hillcrest Farm, 204n Ballygowan road, Dromore, Co. Down , BT25 1RQ
  • William Henderson – 36 Clooney Road, Tobermore, Magherafelt, Co. Londonderry, BT45 5RA

The Fitzgerald family will host a farm walk in 2016.