Grassland management key to success for new dairy farm entrant

Ian Henry with his wife Angela and daughter Grace
Ian Henry with his wife Angela and daughter Grace

Making the most of grass to reduce feed costs is top priority for dairy farmer Ian Henry, one of the participants in AgriSearch’s GrassCheck programme.

Ian who farms along with his cousin David are new entrants into dairy farming and now run a 95 cow dairy herd with a split autumn-spring calving profile, near Armoy in Co Antrim.

Ian Henrys cows grazing

Ian Henrys cows grazing

The Henry farm was converted from a suckler beef enterprise to dairy just over three years ago.

Since taking over the farm from their fathers, Ian and David have wasted no time in implementing a farm business development plan focusing on three key areas: Grassland management, farm infrastructure and herd genetics.

Utilising a 21ha grazing platform at the home farm, Ian and David’s primary goal is to maximise milk production from forage.

In 2017 Ian joined the AgriSearch GrassCheck programme, one of 12 dairy farms across the province regularly measuring grass growth and quality across the grazing platform.

The project, conducted by AFBI and funded by AgriSearch, aims to help livestock farmers manage grass throughout the growing season by providing weekly grass growth and quality results for different areas across Northern Ireland.

As part of the GrassCheck project, Ian carries out weekly grass measuring and budgeting on his farm and commented: “For me measuring is essential to getting maximum value out of the grass that we grow. I know what is in front of the cows and I can manage grass surpluses much better.”

Since turnout this year at the first week in April, the farm has grown 7.74 tonnes of grass dry matter (up to the end of July) with an average daily grass growth rate of 62kg DM/ha/day.

The farm places a large emphasis on pasture quality, aiming to turn cows into leafy pastures with target pre-grazing covers of 3,000kg DM/ha.

This approach has paid dividends in grass quality, with grass metabolisable energy levels averaging 11.8MJ/kg DM throughout the season.

With the 130 ha farm located on SDA land 110m above sea level, maximum flexibility in accessing the grazing platform is crucial.

At a recent GrassCheck workshop, Ian commented: “We get a high level of rainfall each year and some of our grazing platform is area reclaimed from the hill. We need to work hard on maintaining a good soil structure and improving drainage if we want extend our grazing season further and increase milk produced from grazed grass.”

Ian and David put in place new laneways and altered paddock layouts to help them gain easier access to paddocks in wet conditions, move cows quickly and graze more efficiently.

The farm has also been sub-soiling some paddocks to alleviate soil compaction issues.

The Henry’s dairy herd is a mix between pedigree Fleckvieh, Montbeliard and Friesian cows with the aim of moving to 100% Fleckvieh.

The Fleckvieh cow suits the Henry’s upland dairy farm environment well, has a good balance between yield and quality (the herd is currently averaging 7,300 litres/cow at a concentrate feed rate of 0.24kg/litre), and provides him with extra income from calf sales.

Looking to the future, Ian and David believes a strong focus on soil, grazing and silage management will be crucial to achieving good milk from forage and also reducing production costs on the farm.

The Armoy dairy farmer commented: “Our plan is to keep building the farm year on year, increase the herd milk yield slightly and move towards autumn block milk production.”

You can hear more from some of the AFBI-AgriSearch GrassCheck farmers at the upcoming AFBI Dairy Innovation in Practice roadshow which will be held on three dairy farms across Northern Ireland on 12-14 September.

Each of the host farmers is currently taking part in the GrassCheck project and the events will showcase grass results from each farm alongside the latest innovations identify from dairy research taking place at AFBI. Tuesday 12 September: Ian McClelland, 64 Moss Road, Banbridge, Co Down, BT32 3NZ. Wednesday 13 September, Aidan McManus, Cloniff, Macken, Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh, BT92 3BP. Thursday 14 September, David Hunter, 43 Droit Road, Newtownstewart, Co Tyrone, BT78 4DS.

All events will start at 10.30am, with tours leaving every 30 minutes. The last tour starts at 12.30pm. Pre-booking is essential.

Please visit www.afbini.gov.uk to register.

The events are being organised in partnership with AgriSearch, CAFRE and the Ulster Grassland Society.

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.