The Ulster Grassland Society held its annual spring dairy meeting last week with the event hosted by the Beattie family, who operate a 180 cow unit outside Dunloy, Co Antrim.

The farm extends to 126ha (311 acres), of which 116ha (287 acres) is grassland with 40ha of this area being rough grazing. The remaining land area is used to grow whole crop rye.

Operating between 400ft and 500ft above sea level, soil type is extremely heavy with large swathes of land having a high peat content and areas of moss bordering fields surrounding the main yard.

Despite the challenges of working on heavier soils, grazed grass plays a big role within the management of the 180 Holstein cows.

Breeding for fertility and feeding a tailored diet has seen fertility improving with the herd calving interval at 381 days.

The herd is split in two management groups with high yielding cows, currently producing over 40 litres daily, kept inside to maintain production.

But once cows are confirmed in-calf and producing less than 35 litres daily, they move to the low yielding group and graze day and night.

Turnout is normally from mid-April onwards, depending on weather and ground conditions. But given the level of rainfall experienced this spring, low yielding cows have yet to get to grass.

Herd output

Cows averaged 9,960 litres last year at 4.09% butterfat and 3.33% protein with milk sold to Lakeland Dairies.

Concentrate levels totalled 3.85t per cow or 0.38kg of meal fed for every litre of milk produced. That delivered a margin over concentrate of £1,820, or 18p/l, with the herd averaging a farm gate milk price of 32.2p/l.

Milk form forage was 1,700 litres per cow, and along with fertility and higher solids, this is an area that is being targeted for improvement.

Around 70% of the herd calves from September to December with the remaining cows calving over the spring.

Herd fertility

Calving interval for the herd is excellent at 381 days and is derived from a combination of high herd health status, tailored nutrition plans, breeding management and hard culling.

Replacement rate for the herd is running at 28% with culling levels in the region of 22% to 25%. All heifers are bred to sexed semen via fixed time AI programmes along with a select number of cows.

Cows deemed unsuitable for sexed semen are served to beef semen with Limousin and Hereford stock bulls on farm.

The farm’s vet is on site every three weeks to go through calving, heat and service records, all of which are used to select animals for synchronization and fixed time AI.

During veterinary visits, cows receive a pre-breeding scan which is normally carried out at 21 days in milk. Pregnancy scanning is also carried out around 14 days post-service.

Conception rates to fixed time AI is 47% for dairy cows and 82% in heifers with heats monitored using pedometers.

Sires used in the most recent breeding season include high PLI animals supplied by Global Genetics, such as Maserati-P, Raffa, Crosby and Achiever.


The high yielding cow group is fed twice daily with the aim of fresh forage stimulating higher dry matter intakes, which in turn drives milk yield. Low yielding cows are fed once every day.

The high group is offered 8kg/head of a tailored 20% protein blend through the feeder wagon with a maintenance level of 25 litres for cows and 22 litres for heifers.

Cows are then topped up via a feed to yield system in the 20/40 swing-over parlour, starting at 4kg up to 80 days in milk, then upwards to a maximum of 7.5kg. The low yielding group get 5kg of the 20% blend through the parlour.


Silage is made in a three cut system starting with 170 acres normally harvested in mid-May, followed by 150 acres of second cut lifted five to six weeks later. A third cut of 90 acres is harvested after a further seven weeks. All silage is analysed for feed value, along with a mineral analysis. Due to the heavy soils and high peat content, a toxin binder is used as soil contamination can be an issue if made in wet conditions.

High dry matter haylage with low P and K is made specifically for dry cows.

Forages are also prone to being high in trace minerals like cobalt, iron and sodium chloride, which is addressed via the binder, while manganese and copper additives have helped improve herd fertility.

Cows in milk are currently eating first cut silage, which analysed at 33% dry matter, 13.5% protein, 11 ME (Energy) and 69 D-value, along with whole crop rye and 0.25kg of straw.

Dry cow management

High dry matter haylage is also grown on farm, usually on fields which are low in phosphorous (P) and potash (K) and specifically fed to dry cows.

Along with this fodder, dry cows are fed 1kg/day of a tailored 27% protein blend which again has been formulated to meet trace element requirements and avoid issues with high levels of sodium in forage.

As cows get closer to calving, concentrate levels increase to 3kg with the blend containing rumen protected soya and 150g of ammonium chloride.

Grassland management

Despite the heavy nature of soils, regular liming, draining and soil testing every two years keeps land productive with 92% of the farm above pH 6.1.

A targeted fertiliser plan using soil sampling results is drawn up with the help of specialists in Grassland Agro.

The high calcium based soil conditioner, Physiolith, is regularly applied to grassland and helps to maintain soils above pH 6.

The focus placed on getting soil health right is paying off with the farm averaging grass yields of 17t DM/ha in 2023.

The grazing paddocks around the yard range from 1ha to 3ha in size with cows entering covers between 3,000kg and 3,300kg DM/ha. Strip wires are used to allocate fresh grass and improve utilisation on grazing swards.

Maiden heifers are set stocked on 40ha of rough grazing, while heifer calves under 12 months are also set stocked and get concentrate to support liveweight gain.

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