Peter Doyle and Ciarán Tangney are third-year animal and crop production students in UCD completing their dairy placement in Germany.

Peter grew up on a suckler farm with pedigree Angus cattle in Cavan and Ciarán is from a 130-cow dairy farm in Limerick.

They chose to go to Germany because they wanted to see a New Zealand-style system without wanting to travel to the other side of the world for it and also wanted to complete some aspect of their placement abroad.

The farm is owned by the Costello family from Galway and operates under the name Grassmilch Brandenburg.

The farm

"The farm is a 1,100-cow dairy farm based in Brandenburg, Germany, with over 85% of the herd being Jersey-cross cows and the remainder being 200 purebred Holsteins, which were recently acquired from another farm the Costellos own," said Peter.

"They run a spring-calving system and calving begins mid-January. The dairy farm has a block of 735ha, with a 300ha milking platform, 152ha for silage and 110ha for tillage. Of the maize produced from the 110ha of tillage block, over 90% is used for the onsite biogas plant.

"The majority of dairy farms in Germany have an indoor system, so the farm is unique in Germany as it’s a grass-based dairy system with the cows outdoors all year long."

Milking

"Milking generally takes just over four hours and is done in a 60-bail Waikato rotary parlour, which was installed in 2014.

"The milking is contracted out to an external company, but the farm managers do allow students to do a few milkings to get experience using the parlour.

"The parlour is also fitted with an automatic drafting system to help separate cows with ease. With the breeding season commencing shortly, we will see the benefits of this.

Peter Doyle and Ciarán Tangney are third-year animal and crop production students in UCD completing their dairy placement in Germany.

"The parlour also has a built-in sprinkler system, which is turned on during the milking to help keep cows cool during the hot spells during the summer months.

"The herd grazes from March right up until late October. While the cattle are milking, they are fed an 18% concentrate in the parlour at 4kg a day per head.

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"There are five milking groups, with the first being the Holsteins, then the main herd is split into two groups, with group one being the cows on their first, second and third lactation and group two being the older cows.

"Next, are the recently calved colostrum cows and finally the cows with mastitis or which have antibiotics in their system."

Winter

"Cows are held in designated sand pads for the winter. During the winter, the herd is dried off and left outdoors on sand pads where they are fed silage," added Ciaran.

"Once the calving season kicks off, calved cows are moved to a different sand pad where they are fed baled rye before being turned out to grass, along with the nuts in the parlour.

"The cows typically start grazing in early March. However, if the grazing season is delayed due to the weather, the cows are fed whole-crop rye to buffer milk production."

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Shift work

"The farm employs 10 people on the dairy enterprise and the shifts are rotated as six days on and one off.

"The first shift is 4.30am to 1.30pm, which is on for the morning milking with cups on at 5am. On that shift, you are responsible for getting the cows to the parlour and setting up the next paddock for them post-milking for each of the five groups.

"The indoor Holstein shed also has to be prepared for them to return after milking, so scraping down the shed passages and cubicles, liming them and cleaning the water troughs is also done.

"The next shift starts at 11am and begins with jobs such as scraping down the yard, fencing or getting any new calves from the calving sand pad. You are on for the evening milking then.

"The third shift is split into two blocks. The first part of the shift begins at 8am and finishes at 12pm. The second part of the shift begins at 5pm and finishes at 9pm. This shift involves feeding the calves, bedding them, feeding colostrum to new calves and treating any sick

animal."

Calves and replacements

"All calves are fed with colostrum followed by transition milk. All calves are then fed milk replacer. The calves are fed hay ad-lib while also having a supply of fresh water.

"Once the calves are eight weeks old, they are fed a 22% protein nut. Replacement heifers are sold to a contract rearer once they are 80kg and are bought back in two years assuming they are pregnant."

Social aspect

"The town where the farm is situated is quiet, but only 20 minutes away is Brandenburg, which is the closest city to us.

"Brandenburg offers a variety of shops and has a vibrant nightlife. Brandenburg also has an established train service where trains are going every hour to Berlin.

"The train takes less than an hour to reach the heart of Berlin. We have made great use of this service by visiting Berlin and other cities during our time off."