Seamus’s farming system doesn’t look like your conventional spring-calving dairy herd.
Seamus highlights that, "in total, we milk 135 pedigree Holstein cows, split into spring and autumn calving.
"What is unusual about Coolnagree is that 60% of the herd are a red and white cow, over your conventional black and white colours. We also focus on breeding for our annual sale of calved heifers that we hold in February each year.
"Factoring the heifers that we bring to sale, we usually calf 185 animals annually, of which we keep 85 heifers and 15 bulls."
The high-yielding autumn-calved cows are currently yielding 34 litres a day for Seamus.
Seamus states: "Average production sits around 8700lt at 680kg milk solids, which we’re quite happy with. Looking into the future, I’d like to increase this to 700kg without any extra inputs.’’
As the autumn-calved cows continue to milk, the spring-calving herd has started calving on the O’Leary farm.
"To date, we have eight calves born, and all is going to plan at the moment," he says.
Setting the groundwork for an efficient calving period starts with correct nutrition and management.
Seamus takes his time in correcting and maximising nutrition, highlighting that "all the cows get 60 days' of a dry period on the farm."
He adds: "However, if a cow has any health issues like high somatic cell count (SCC), we try to give that animal an extra month to help rest and repair for the next lactation.
"After testing our silage, we select and choose a dry cow mineral that balances out the results. Silage quality was mixed this year given the bad weather, but we’re lucky enough to have good quality first-cut silage, at 75% Dry Matter Digestibility (DMD)."
Along with the silage and dry cow mineral, the spring calving herd gets 2.5kg of straw and 1kg of a soya and maize meal mix.ADVERTISEMENT
Coupled with top-class nutrition management, Seamus also implements an effective herd health plan. Herd health programs allow farmers like Seamus to minimise disease risk and ensure a healthy cow and calf for the upcoming season.
"Vaccination is a key tool on the farm to reduce disease risk. All the cows are vaccinated for all the main diseases, including rotavirus and salmonella. It’s a vital step to ensure both cow and calf are healthy, and reduces the workload, as you’ve fewer sick animals.’’
GAIN Animal Nutrition, Technical Specialist Willie Darmody discusses steps for successful heifer rearing and the move to GAIN Calf Milk Replacer:
Calf management and nutrition
Breeding and rearing calves for not only your own replacements, but also for sale, requires careful management from the minute the calf hits the ground, to ensure maximum efficiency and profitability.ADVERTISEMENT
"When the cows start to show some signs of calving, we move the cow to an individual pen. Once the calf lands, it’s fed three litres of colostrum within the first two hours and gets another feed within 12 hours of that.
"The calf continues to receive the mother's transition milk for the first couple of days, as the cows are vaccinated against rotavirus, giving the calf the best possible chance to get all the goodness from the mother’s milk."
At the centre of Seamus’s effective calf management program is the GAIN Easi-Mix Calf Milk Replacer, which is high in protein at 25% and contains key ingredients to support calf health and performance, like Digest VO, BioMos and Gardian, which help against Coccidiosis and Cryptosporidium.
Seamus has been using the GAIN Easi-Mix Calf Milk Replacer for the last number of years and is delighted with calf performance.
Seamus says: "Heifers and bulls are trained onto the automatic feeder from seven days of age, where they're placed on a 73-day feeding program.
"The feeding plan starts with five litres, gradually increasing to seven litres per day, with the last three weeks of the program gradually decreasing until the calves are weaned.
"The calves receive seven litres with 875g of the GAIN Easi-Mix Calf Milk Replacer, which is probably a litre more than conventional systems, but the bigger Holstein calf demands the extra feed."
In addition, the calves have access to water and unlimited hay and straw, which is essential in stimulating the rumen.
Moving from whole milk to Calf Milk Replacer
Seamus didn’t always use Calf Milk Replacer; he used to rely on whole milk to feed his calves.
He highlighted the reason behind the move five years ago: "The main reason we moved to an automatic feeder was labour. My father, Pat, can now rear and manage the calves, which is a great help to me on the farm.
"Along with that, feeding whole milk had several disadvantages, including increased chances of transmitting infections like Johne's disease and higher costs, as we were often feeding milk fit for the co-op to calves.
"The GAIN Easi-Mix Calf Milk Replacer for us is consistent, and calves look and perform better when compared to using the whole milk. We also noticed the calves started eating the crunch, hay and straw much earlier, which saw higher daily live weight gain - crucial for our system.’’
Support from Tirlán
Paddy Wickham is Seamus’s Tirlán FarmLife business manager. Seamus believes that it’s very important for farmers to have access to the expertise offered by Paddy and the team at Tirlán.
Seamus noted: "Paddy and the team are excellent and are always around to help. Last year, when I moved into a purpose-built calf shed, they visited the farm and helped design a calf feeding programme to suit my herd, which was a huge help."