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Maintaining Herd Health Focus of Heifer Rearing Open Day

Over five hundred dairy farmers attended the Open Day held on the farm of Shane and Fiona Fitzgerald, Garrycahera, Ballynoe, Co. Cork, today, Wednesday, 7th September.  The Fitzgeralds were first prize winners in the Volac sponsored National Heifer Rearer of the Year Competition – a Competition whose overall objective is to encourage farmers to pay close attention to good calf husbandry and heifer management from birth through to calving. 

Since taking over the family farm in 2008, Shane and Fiona have increased the size of the dairy herd from 120 to the current 260 dairy cows on a milking platform of 72 hectares (ha). They plan to further increase the size of their herd to 300 cows next spring.  In addition to the 260 cows they have 115 heifer calves and 67 in-calf replacements on the 140 ha farm.  

Speaking at the event, George Ramsbottom, Teagasc dairy specialist said:  “Early calf management is critical to the high health status of the Fitzgerald herd.  A night-time calver is present during February, calves are removed and an average of 5 litres of colostrum is fed shortly after birth”.

Outdoor management of the weanling and yearling heifers is carried out to a high standard.  John Maher, Teagasc dairy specialist said: “Grassland management is crucial to the success of the heifer rearing enterprise.  After weaning they are turned out to grass straight away.  Outdoors they are split into a heavier and lighter group.  Their average weight today is 180 kg which is about 20 kg ahead of target for the time of year”.

Herd health was a major focus of the farm walk.  Dr. Sam Strain, Animal Health Ireland (AHI), who is a leading expert on the control of Johnes disease, presented the three important steps to control of the disease in newborn calves. Maintaining a clean calving environment, early calf removal and feeding colostrum from healthy cows. 

The competition has run since 2009 with winners emerging from both Northern and Southern Ireland.  The main sponsor is Volac.  Director of Volac in Ireland, Pat Cahill said: “Heifer rearing is a costly business.  Rearing healthy well-bred heifers is an essential component of profitable dairy farming.  While the Fitzgeralds are efficient low cost operators, when the cost of own labour and land and the value of the replacement heifer is accounted for, a replacement heifer, calving at two years of age, is costing Shane over €1,300 to produce.”

Pat Cahill continued; “This competition offers us the opportunity to highlight this important aspect of the enterprise to a wide audience.  I would like to thank our hosts, the Fitzgerald family and the other Competition partners, The Irish Farmers Journal, Teagasc and the Northern Ireland bodies CAFRE and AFBINI”.