Farming 400 acres on the outskirts of Ballymena, Darren McKay works closely with his father Danny in managing this predominantly grass-based operation.
Danny explained: “The farm is home to a herd of 150 Holstein Friesian cows and a 200-strong flock of breeding ewes. We also grow 50 acres of barley on an annual basis.
“Last year saw the installation of a Lely A5 robot, which is used to milk out first calving heifers. This approach in splitting the younger animals from the older girls is allowing them to settle in better to their lactation.”
Significantly, a high proportion of the produce coming from the business is being used to further develop an already thriving farm shop. Danny’s other son Brendan is the man in charge of the Glensway Tavern and Farm Shop.
“The shop is supplying customers with meats and dairy products from our family farm. We want to source the best quality products for our food. And the most effective way of guaranteeing this is to bring in the produce directly from our own farm,” added Danny.
“The next step for the farm shop is to start selling our own milk and ice cream. We have a pasteuriser and separator, which will allow us to make that happen.”
Underpinning the McKay’s relationship with their fast-growing customer base is a commitment to produce the food sold in their shop without a reliance on antibiotics. Danny takes up the story:
“We started milking 13 years ago. Back then there was no alternative but to use antibiotics to control cases of mastitis and high cell count.
“But even at that stage, we knew that this approach was far from satisfactory. We kept getting repeat cases of mastitis and the culling rate was unacceptably high.”
The transition to an animal health management programme that does not rely on the use of antibiotics was facilitated by the family’s decision to use the AHV product range, primarily to improve the overall health of the animals.
Darren McKay said: “We took the decision to go with AHV three years ago. And, in truth, it wasn’t plain sailing at the start. It took time to get used to the products and learn how they can be best used. It was very much a case of having the patience to find out about how this entire new way of managing animals, from an animal health point of view, actually works.
“We also received tremendous support and advice from the AHV team. The relationship with AHV has really come into its own over the past year or so. Now we have very few problems with mastitis or cell count-related issues.”
The McKay’s first experience of the AHV product range was the company’s Extra Tablet.
Darren said: “We took this approach to treat cows with high cell count and mastitis. Since then we have used more of the company’s products. These include ASPI, which is an anti-inflammatory.
“We also use AHV Booster Powders to re-hydrate cows if they are not well; the AHV Metri tablet to help them after calving; and we have recently started using the Calf Start powder in order to give the calves a boost.”
He added: “We have found that there is a need to have patience with the products: no panic at the start.
“If there have been issues that we do not understand, the members of the AHV team have always been available to answer these for us and to provide the guidance that we need.”
Danny specifically highlighted the role of the milking robots in flagging up high cell count and mastitis-related issues at a very early stage.
He said: “We have had very few cases of clinical mastitis since the robot was installed. It is flagging up high cell count cows at a very early stage. These can be effectively dealt with by the immediate administration of an Extra tablet.
“We have been working closely with AHV for the past three years. As we get a better grasp of the products’ mode of action, it’s very much a case of putting them to more effective use within the herd.”
Darren added: “Our plan for the future is to have a healthy herd of cows and to be completely antibiotic free.
“We want to have healthy produce for our farm shop. We believe that consumers are pushing for more healthy produce. We want to be the front runner in supplying produce that is local.”
To get in touch with an AHV advisor in your area by visiting the website at www.ahvint.com and select ‘Find Your Advisor’. Alternatively, call the office on 028 855 49600.