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Conor Beausang - Teagasc Glanbia Monitor Farmer

03 October 2018
Type Media Article


A DECADE OF CHANGE AND GROWTH ON WATERFORD FARM

The past ten years has seen a lot of change on the Beausang farm at Churchwater, Grange, Co. Waterford. Traditionally, the farm managed by Philip and Peggy Beausang had been a tillage, sheep and suckler enterprise.   In 2008 their son, Conor, returned to full time farming having completed his Green Cert in Kildalton and a few years working part-time off farm.

Conor took a long hard look at the level of work, costs and profitability from managing 200 ewes and the suckler enterprise and made a determined choice to make a change.

‘I couldn’t see a viable future with the existing set up without working off-farm as well. I felt that changing to dairy farming was the only choice for me if I wanted to have a good income out of farming.’

MILKING FOR THE FIRST TIME

Conor had been part of a beef discussion group so he switched to Deise 2020, a Dairy Discussion Group and did a lot of reading. ‘We bought a second-hand eight unit milking parlour for €1,500 and did most of the installation ourselves - the concrete work and roofing. We spent as little as possible to get up and running and drove it from there.’

In anticipation that milk quotas would be abolished, he bought in some Friesian heifer calves in Spring 2011 so that he would be ready to start milking when the quotas were gone.  

Conor grasped the opportunity to apply for a 200,000 litre milk quota under the New Entrants Scheme in 2011 and started milking his first 15 cows in October that year, up to 30 in November and got up to 40 cows in 2012.

Conor’s Dad, Philip, who is still actively supportive on the farm, was initially unsure about making the change to dairy, but was quickly reassured. Conor says the choice was definitely the right choice. ‘I might be busy, but at least I’m here on the farm and not working off farm as well.’

MONITOR FARM PROGRAMME

Towards the end of 2014 Conor was asked to take part in the Teagasc Glanbia Monitor Farm Programme, which was set up to help dairy farmers promote sustainable growth post-quotas.

Conor has gradually and steadily continued to increase the size of the herd. By the time milk quotas were removed he was milking 80 cows, supplying manufacturing milk to Glanbia.   This year the Holstein Friesian x herd is 120 with the potential to reach 130-135 next year.  

‘That would be a good size for this farm unless more land comes my way – but any further expansion would also mean bringing in more labour,’ says Conor. The farm is currently 66.4 hectares, with 40.6 hectares of a milking platform.

‘The Monitor Farm programme put a lot of information our way. It’s up to you to take from that and put it into good use on your own farm.’

GRASS IS NUMBER ONE

Conor says the programme has a strong focus on getting as much as you can from grass. ‘Grass is number one.   The cows will do what they have to do once the grass is there – but your management of the grass will dictate how well it’s going to be grazed.’

He feels he is much more in control of his finances based on what he has learned in the Programme, particularly in relation to using the Profit Monitor and budgeting for the year.

‘The Monitor Farm Programme helped me to look at things a bit differently and to make sure I’m operating as efficiently as I can, cutting out the unnecessary habits and making the best use of my time’.

BIG TIME SAVING FROM UPGRADED PARLOUR

As an example, Conor says that his parlour is the same shape but he has put in 17 units, an auto washer and auto remover, with the effect that milking time has reduced from 2 ¼ hours to one hour each time. ‘That saves me two hours a day, or 14 hours a week, which is a serious amount of time.   I was actually quite shocked as I didn’t realise it could make such a different but it was well worth the time.’

Conor has invested €46,000 upgrading the milking parlour, which is the biggest spend in infrastructure in the past three years. A further €16,000 has been spent on a new bulk tank and €12,000 on field infrastructure, mainly fencing and roadways.

GETTING THE MOST FROM HERD

Average milk yield has increased from 4,864 litres per cow in 2014 to 5,817 in 2017.   Conor has seen average milk solids per dairy hectare increase from 776 in 2014 to 1,156 in 2017; with milk solids per cow increasing from 377 Kg in 2014 to 476 Kg in 2017.

Since joining the Monitor Farm programme, the overall net profit per cow has also almost doubled, increasing from 680 in 2014 to 1217 in 2017.

Costs reduced from 20.86 cent per litre to 17.62 cent per litre in the same period.

‘If the cow is not utilised properly, you still have the same costs. We had held back in the past when we were restricted by quota,’ says Conor.   ‘Now we are able to get the most from our cows, using better quality grass more efficiently, with the right stocking rate and breeding. It has all made a big difference.’

Conor measures grass about 44 times a year, stopping in December when the cows stop grazing outdoors and starting again from the end of January. About 80% of the land has been reseeded in the last seven years. The farm has been mapped and paddock sizes increased so that he is now achieving three grazings per paddock.

In 2014 milking platform stocking rate was 0.95 (Lu/Ha) it had increased to 2.50 by 2017. Conor was achieving 14.5 Kg DM/hectare grass growth in 2017 – up from 13.5 Kg DM/hectare in 2015.

Conor was soil testing every three years and likely to pull it back to every two years. He is ‘bang on target’ for pH levels now with pH >6.3 at 100% in 2017 up from 26% in 2015. K index 3/4 was at 62% in 2017 up from 47% in 2015 while the P Index 3/4 was 55% in 2017.

Conor feels he has made big improvements with breeding in the herd. Six week calving rate has improved from 62% in 2014 to 88% in 2017; with numbers of heifers calving at 22-26 months at 100% now, compared with 67% when he started the Monitor farm programme. He has worked closely with his local vet in Youghal, Ron Cashman, on developing a herd health plan including vaccination programme and milk is tested regularly.

GOOD BALANCE

Conor is married to Angela who is a teacher, currently job sharing at St. Paul’s in Lisduggan. They have two children, Ella (eight) and James (five). Conor also helps out with training and support in a local GAA Club.   He says it’s great to have his father still tipping away and helping with jobs like spraying and mowing.   ‘I’m always rushing and he’s so much more calm and measured.   It’s a good balance.’