AFBI ready to showcase high grass production potential in West Tyrone

Host farmer David Hunter with Dr Debbie McConnell from AFBI discussing plans for the Dairy Innovation in Practice farm walks taking place on 12 -14 September.
Host farmer David Hunter with Dr Debbie McConnell from AFBI discussing plans for the Dairy Innovation in Practice farm walks taking place on 12 -14 September.

Consistently achieving grass growth targets of 14–15t DM/ha/year is top priority for David Hunter, who runs an 80 cow, spring calving dairy herd near Newtownstewart, County Tyrone.

David farms in partnership with his father John and next week he will host visitors to his farm on Thursday 14th September as one of the three AFBI ‘Dairy Innovation in Practice’ Roadshow events.

David Hunter with his 80 cow, spring calving herd, near Newtownstewart.

David Hunter with his 80 cow, spring calving herd, near Newtownstewart.

After finishing his agriculture studies in 2011, David became a new entrant to dairying by converting the 40ha farm from a suckler beef and cropping business in 2012. The herd now consists of 80 Holstein Friesian and Jersey-cross cows averaging 6250 litres per cow, with 3750 litres produced from forage.

Achieving high levels of grass production and utilisation is paramount to the success of the business and an aspect which David focuses on heavily. “Since starting in 2012, we have reseeded the whole farm with the latest grass varieties to boost grazing performance,” David explains.

In addition the farm has addressed deficiencies in soil phosphorus, potassium and low pH.

“Coming from an arable background, we recognised the almost immediate impact that poor soil health could have on yield. We have applied that same thinking to our grassland, addressing low potassium contents and applying bagged lime regularly.” David continues: “This is paying off and last year we grew 14.7t DM/ha across our grazing fields.”

This year cows were turned out to grass on 10th February with the aim of grazing until mid-November. David manages grazing through a series of 36 hour grazing paddocks and has invested heavily in grazing infrastructure across the 20ha grazing platform. This has involved installing new laneways and multiple access points to deliver flexibility throughout the grazing season. The farm also operates in-parlour ‘feed to yield’ software, to maximise individual cow response to supplementation.

Going forward, David hopes to tighten his calving interval, aiming to calve all animals in a 12 week period after February 1st.

David explained: “Initially I didn’t have a clear view of what system I wanted to operate when I was purchasing cows and so we ended up with a very spread calving pattern. Now we are focussing hard on fertility to ensure we have a short calving window and can drive performance from grazed grass.”

In addition to presentations by the host farmers, AFBI Dairy Researchers will present their latest innovations in a range of dairy related issues. These include the importance of good calf rearing and animal health programmes, winter feeding practices and grassland management.

The three host farms are Ian McClelland, 64 Moss Road, Banbridge, BT32 3NZ (Tuesday 12th September), Aidan McManus, Cloniff, Macken, Enniskillen, BT92 3BP (Wednesday 13th September) and finally David Hunter, 43 Droit Road, Newtownstewart, BT78 4DS (Thursday 14th September).

These events are being organised in partnership with AgriSearch and the Ulster Grassland Society. The first tour on each farm starts at 10.30am and lasts about two and a half hours.

There are further tours starting every half an hour with the last at noon. However, as the Banbridge event has already booked out, AFBI has included an additional 12.30pm start. Spaces are still available for the Enniskillen and Newtownstewart events, though the most popular time slots are filling fast.

This is not an event to be missed and booking as soon as possible on-line at www.afbini.gov.uk/events is advised.

In the interests of biosecurity those attending are asked to wear clean clothing not previously worn while in direct contact with their own animals. Outdoor work boots should not be worn. Protective overalls and footwear will be provided.

For further details see www.afbini.gov.uk.