Increasing dairy feed efficiency on a Fermanagh dairy farm

Jillian Moore farms with her father Tom Phair at Garvary, outside Enniskillen. Jillian is a member of a College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE) Business Development Group (BDG) in County Fermanagh.

CAFRE Dairy Adviser Christopher Breen outlines: “The farm has dairy and suckler beef enterprises, extending to 250 ha, running from lowland to heather moorland. Currently there are 50 dairy cows plus heifer followers and 30 suckler cows with all progeny taken to beef or forward stores. As part of her local BDG, Jillian has completed CAFRE Benchmarking annually for several years to keep an eye on dairy herd performance and feed efficiency.”

The dairy cows calve all year round and in 2021 averaged 7,450 litres of milk from 2.05 tonnes of concentrates with 2,897 litres of milk from forage. Milk output and the level of milk from forage have increased significantly over the past few years, with production having increased from just under 6,000 litres and milk from forage increasing from 2,294 litres to the current level. Cows are normally grazed both during the day and at night, which has been challenging this year in May and early June due to wet conditions.

A significant area of the more lowland area of the farm has been reseeded in recent years and this along with improved grazing management and cutting silage earlier has contributed greatly to the increase in milk yields from grazed and conserved grass. “This year the first cut silage was made later than intended due to the inclement weather and poor ground conditions and this may have an effect on the levels of concentrates needed this winter,” explains Jillian. A second cut is planned in mid-July with the aim of making high quality silage. Further reseeding is planned later in the summer, with a traditional full reseed using ploughing being preferred as this helps to alleviate any compaction issues which the heavy soils on the farm can be prone to.

Jillian Moore in the new Delaval 12 point parlour.

Up until late May of this year the dairy herd had been milked through an old 6 point parlour that had been installed in the late 1970’s. This parlour had become outdated and not practical for an expanding herd. Over recent years, the dairy herd has expanded from around 30 cows to the current 50 cow herd. Jillian aims to increase the herd further to around 65 cows. With this in mind the decision was taken to build and install a new 12 point Delaval parlour with Auto-Identification and a Feed to Yield system. The new parlour software will also link to the existing Sensehub heat detection system, which is aimed at tightening the calving pattern. As Jillian explained: “In the old parlour it was hard to assess levels of meal feeding needed and this tended to result in some over or under feeding of concentrates.” This parlour has now been up and running for a month and Jillian is finding cow management much easier in terms of feeding as each cow can be fed individually based on milk yield, cows being more settled and a much quicker milking time.

“Jillian is now hoping that the benchmarking results will be even better next year due to the new parlour offering more accurate feeding leading to improved feed efficiency,” concluded Christopher Breen.

The Business Development Groups scheme is part-funded by the EU through the Rural Development Programme.

Cows being milked in the new parlour.