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Martin Davin - Teagasc Glanbia Monitor Farmer

27 September 2018
Type Media Article


LAOIS FARMER REACHING BROADER HORIZONS

Martin Davin’s family have farmed at Eglish near Rathdowney in Co Laois for three centuries.  Martin’s Dad, Tim, was diagnosed with leukaemia in 1999 and decided to take the early retirement scheme.   Tim passed away in 2003.

Martin did his Green Cert at Rockwell after finishing secondary school and then took over the running of the farm in 1999.  At that time it was a mixed farm with tillage, beef and 27 cows on 44.5 hectares (110 acres).   Martin secured a grant that was available to young farmers and built a new 8 unit double up milking parlour in 2004.  He converted a haybarn and bought some quota, expanding the herd to 40 cows and supplying milk to Glanbia.

TURNING POINT

In 2009 Martin inherited 12 hectares (30 acres) accessible to cows across the road from the farm house.  With the possibility on the horizon that milk quotas would be removed, Martin steered towards dairying and set his sights on further expansion.  ‘We had been strangled by quotas for years.’

Martin says that taking part in the O’Moore Discussion Group was hugely important in terms of learning new ways of doing things – describing it as ‘a big turning point’.

Joining the panel of farmers in the Teagasc Glanbia Monitor Farm Programme was a further step towards focusing his priorities and expanding the farm based on a solid plan.   The Monitor Farm Programme was set up in 2014 to help dairy farmers promote sustainable growth post-quotas.

‘The Programme has taught me to work smart so that I can free up time for jobs which feed into decision making; and to step back and do more planning for the farm.   Beforehand, I was measuring grass and I had figures, but I didn’t have the confidence to act on the figures.  Now I’m using the information to make improvements.’

INVESTING IN OPTIMUM HERD SIZE

Martin had about 76 cows when he joined the Monitor Farm Programme and now has 125 cows, having had to cull some cows for lameness issues last year.  He sees 130 cows as the optimum number for his Spring calving herd.

In the three years from 2015 - 2018 Martin has invested €367,000 to support the expansion, with €15,000 on field infrastructure such as resurfacing of roads, drainage, fences and changing paddock sizes. Martin spent €12,000 on the bulk tank and €20,000 on the milking parlour, expanding to a 12 unit double up system with cluster removers, auto wash and automatic drafting.

The biggest investment was €320,000 in housing for 140 cows with adjoining loose straw calving shed with a pen for any problem cows.  As it’s all under one roof it is easier to manage.

Martin says his management of farm finances has improved significantly. ‘I was doing Profit Monitor but it is much more focused now.  I have better records and budgets.  I can track the finances better, which means I can see a problem evolving if there is a difficult year and I can take corrective action.’

The overall net profit per cow has increased from €714 to €895 between 2014 and 2017.  Costs reduced from 27.06 cent per litre to 22.56 cent per litre in the same period.

IMPROVING LAND USE

The farm is now 68ha including four rented hectares– with 38 hectares of a milking platform. 

Whilst he had the land, Martin did not start to use it as efficiently as he could until it became evident that quotas would go.    He has re-seeded 80% of the land in the last 4 years and aims to continue to re-seed 10% per annum.

The farm is a ‘bit fragmented’ with the grazing block divided by three roads – one main road and two quiet roads.    About 22 hectares are on an out-farm and those outside blocks are now getting more attention.

The farm has been mapped, with paddock sizes increased.  He is acting on the figures from measuring grass and turning surplus into bales for more difficult times.

In 2017 milking platform stocking rate was 3.18 (Lu/Ha).  Martin was achieving 16.6 Kg DM/hectare grass growth up from 13 Kg DM/hectare in 2015.  

Soil fertility has improved hugely during the Monitor Farm programme.  Martin was soil testing every five years but is now testing every two years and will continue at the level.   He has improved soil fertility with pH >6.3 at 90% in 2017 up from 78% in 2015.  

P Index 3/4 was up to 90% in 2017 from 75% in 2015; and K index 3/4 was at 25% in 2017 from 8% in 2015.  ‘K levels are still a bit low with more work to be done there.’

YIELDS AND SOLIDS

Martin has seen average milk yield increased from 5,160 litres per cow in 2014 to 6,406 in 2017 and average milk solids per cow increase from 402 Kg in 2014 to 516 Kg in 2017.   If you look at the improvements in milk solids per dairy hectare they have gone up from 763 in 2014 to 1,269 in 2017.

‘Whether you’re breeding for solids or for yields – the results come from having the right grass.  The key efficiencies all tie in together and manifest themselves in the milk and yield.’

CALF REARING & HERD HEALTH

There is a big emphasis on calf rearing on the farm.   Martin’s partner, Lena Sheahan, is a vet and actively helps on the farm during the busy calving period.  Martin believes the first 12 weeks are important to ensuring calves are healthy, saying colostrum has a big role to play. Weighing calves regularly allows him to separate out the lighter calves into a group which needs more attention.

Martin and Lena also work with Glanbia’s vet Shane McElroy on herd health planning and vaccination programmes, using an online facility which sends text reminders to him in advance of vaccinations.

DIFFICULT YEAR WITH NEW HORIZONS

In 2014 Martin had 88% of heifers calving between 22-26 months.   In 2017 he had increased this to 100%.   This year’s breeding season was difficult to manage at a personal level as Martin’s mother was sick.  

Martin’s mother, Brid, passed away in early September, 2018.

‘I am not driven by wanting to milk the most cows in the parish,’ says Martin. ‘I want to get things done right on the farm and run it efficiently.   But I appreciate that it’s important to be able to have some free time and I need to enjoy what I’m doing.’

Martin has part-time support from Martin Sutcliffe and brings in a third person during the peak calving period.  He is now using contractors where he can for jobs like slurry spreading, fertilizer spreading, silage and bailing, which allows Martin to work more consistent hours.

He enjoys travelling and tries to take a break when the cows are dry.  Cuba, India and Vietnam have been experiences to remember.  Argentina is on his horizons for a visit, but some of Martin’s friends who live overseas have been very supportive through his mother’s illness, so he may try to plan his next trip based on a visit to friends in Hong Kong and Australia.