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Progressive Farming is Rooted in Keen Interest

15 August 2018
Type Media Article


PROGRESSIVE FARMING IS ROOTED IN KEEN INTEREST

Kilkenny Dairy Farm Expansion Based on Informed Choices

Pat Dillon is the fourth generation of his family to farm at Grangecuffe, Co. Kilkenny. His parents, Andy and Brigid, ran a mixed farm with 30-40 cows, finishing cattle, sheep and tillage.

Dairy farmer Pat Dillon is a participant in the Teagasc/Glanbia Joint Programme. On Friday, 24th August he opens his farm to allow all farmers have the opportunity to visit and learn what skills and knowledge he has gained from the programme to develop his dairy farm business.

Pat always wanted to be involved with the family farm and says if you want to farm and have a genuine keen interest, you will look for plenty of information and find ways to do it well. He studied at Kildalton Agricultural College and then worked on the farm, taking over the management in 2007 when his father retired.

The size of the farm now is not radically different – Pat bought eight hectares from a neighbour – but the number of cows has increased significantly and Pat says access to information has helped him make very informed choices.

Finding ways to use time efficiently is important to Pat. He married Una, who is a teacher, in 2006 and they have three sons – Conor, Andrew and Harry. Pat, who used to hurl for Danesfort, also likes to train some of the young lads’ teams.

FARM MORE EFFICIENT AND PRODUCTIVE NOW

Pat was asked would he take part in the Teagasc Glanbia Monitor Farm Programme in 2015. The joint programme set out to help dairy farmers take advantage of growth opportunities that arose post quota.   Pat says it’s been a good experience. He feels the farm is better set up from a labour perspective and is achieving better cow performance. ‘I’m definitely glad I did it as the farm is more efficient all round and more productive.’  

EXPANDING HERD WITH INCREASED YIELD

The focus is now entirely on dairy farming, supplying manufacturing milk to Glanbia Ireland. Pat had grown the herd to 100 cows by 2015. He is now milking 126 cows in the Holstein Friesian herd on a milking platform of 38 hectares. The average yield was 6,119 litres in 2017, up from 4,898 litres in 2014. He is likely to expand the herd a little more in 2019.

Pat says that the amount of information he has at his fingertips is tremendous. ‘There is no question but the use of computers and paperwork is very different on today’s farm – but when you have access to that kind of detail, it helps you make better planning decisions.’

KEY IMPROVEMENTS

Since getting involved in the Teagasc Glanbia programme, some key improvements are that cow numbers and cow output have gone up. In addition to the improvement in milk yield, fat percentage is up from 4.08% in 2014 to 4.35% in 2017 and protein from 3.48% to 3.63% in the same period. Milk solids increased from 382 (Kg) to 503 (Kg) and from 979 (Dairy Ha) to 1,696 (Dairy Ha) in those four years.

Pat has grown a lot more grass and improved stocking rate. In 2017 Pat grew 17 tonnes of grass, up from 13 tonnes in 2015. He had already been improving PH levels gradually as part of the REPs programme.

‘Soil testing had been ad hoc but is much better managed now,’ says Pat. ‘This helped to identify fields which are deficient. We have plans involving earlier nitrogen, using a little more nitrogen, a heavier stocking rate and longer grazing season. We’re getting the first round grazed earlier and getting it grazed when it should be, getting that extra bit of grass for the system.’ Pat has been doing some reseeding every year with 80% reseeded in the last seven years.

Pat’s milking parlour, a 14 unit herringbone, is only about five years old and relatively new. Since getting involved in the Monitor Farm Programme he has made changes to fencing, improved water and built a new housing unit with capacity for 150 cows which has made a big difference. ‘The animals had been spread across three or four different buildings. Now they can be cared for and monitored under one roof - a more efficient use of my time,’ says Pat. ‘It was a great move.’

CONTRACT REARING

Pat first tried contract rearing in 2015. Animals go around mid-March at about 13 or 14 months of age. The contractor manages the first breeding season and they are in-calf when they return in mid -November.

This has been a big change from a labour perspective. ‘In the past I was separating stock and managing two groups. Now I’m keeping an eye on one group of stock for breeding and AI,’ says Pat. ‘It’s a relatively new system for me but I will be continuing with it.’

Pat believes the farm rearer is very well suited as he has outside blocks so Pat’s stock is mostly separated. All of the herd is also vaccinated well including for BVD, Lepto, IBR and salmonella as Pat believes it’s important to vaccinate to avoid trouble.