Phenomenal performance achieved in 2020, on a high output grass-based system in Co. Cavan

Phenomenal performance achieved in 2020, on a high output grass-based system in Co. Cavan

Pictured left to right: Brothers Charles & John Smith

In the April edition of the Lakeland Agri Technical notes, we covered an article written by Professor Finbar Mulligan in UCD. In the article, Finbar gave a very brief outline of the high output grazing system currently by trialled in UCD. He communicated the rationale for examining such a system in an Irish context – the issue of farm fragmentation in certain counties and environmental pressures going forward. He also outlined the targets UCD’s farm were working towards in the areas of milk solids output/cow (625 kgs/cow), grass grown (15 t grass dry matter/ha), 6-week in calf rate (75 % +) and concentrate usage/cow (1.5 tonnes) in this type of high output grazing system. 

During a recent conversation with brothers John and Charles Smith, who are valued Lakeland Dairies milk suppliers and feed customers, we identified strong similarities between Smith’s farm and UCD’s farm. Both systems are aiming to push the boundaries when it comes to milk solids output/cow on a grass-based system, grow and feed as much grass as possible and target concentrate usage to bridge the gap between what grass can supply in terms of energy requirements and what the animal requires for maintenance and production. The only significant difference between the two systems is that UCD are letting their animals out to grass, whereas the Smith brothers have a Zero Grazer to bring fresh grass into the cows daily. 

When speaking to John and Charles, it is very evident that both men are clear on the type of system they are working towards. They make the point that the type of cow in their system requires more attention when compared to a lower yielding animal, but if you can get it right, it is impressive what can be achieved in terms of annual output. 

When we reviewed the performance of the farm in 2020 several key figures stood out. 41 % of animals milked in 2020 were heifers and the herd averaged an impressive 7,163 litres (577 kgs milk solids) into Lakeland Dairies for processing. The grass growth figure was an equally impressive 14.5 tonne of dry matter/ha. 

When we asked John what the contributing factors to the improved performance in the system over the last number of years were, he said.

It’s a team approach. Conversations are ongoing daily between Charles and me and we rely on the expertise of three external resources to guide us with the correct information in the areas of animal health, nutrition and breeding. Namely, Smith and Foley veterinary practice in Kells, our Lakeland Agri Nutritionist Alan Hurst and our Lakeland Dairies Breeding Advisor Adrian Mc Keague. It’s essential we get it right on all three components. You have to start with a healthy cow, you must have the correct genetics in the herd for high output, and you must feed the cow correctly to meet her requirements on energy as you move through the various stages of lactation.

When asked to comment on current performance John said,

Cows were in perfect condition on the run up to calving with an average body condition score of 3.25 to 3.5. The calving season has gone very well for us so far this year with most cows calving unassisted and without complications, the only exception being a handful of cows carrying twins.

John went on to say,

Our lift today on 25th March 2021 was 3,285 litres and with 112 going into the milk tank we’re hitting over 29 litres on average. Our last milk quality result on 22nd March 2021 gave us a reading of 4.32 % butterfat, 3.26 % milk protein and a milk urea reading of 25. Average yield of just under 2.3 kgs milk solids/cow/day.

As John and Charles look to the future, they have plans to invest in new dairy cow accommodation, a new 24-unit milking machine with 3-way drafting, automatic cluster removal and feed to yield in the parlour, to help manage the expanding cow numbers.