Drumhoe herd goes for gold in the prestigious NMR RABDF Gold Cup

Stephen (left) and Mark Montgomeryfrom  Drumahoe
Stephen (left) and Mark Montgomeryfrom Drumahoe

In just 10 years, brothers Stephen and Mark Montgomery have built up their pedigree dairy enterprise in Northern Ireland from nothing. And their achievements have gained them a place in the final six herds in the 2018 NMR RABDF Gold Cup.

Their first 100 pedigree Holsteins were bought from a neighbouring farmer who was going out of production and the cows were walked the half mile up the road on September 5, 2008.

Now the brothers, following substantial investments in land, buildings and cattle and who have no labour and rely on contractors for seasonal work, are consolidating their business and focusing on the detail of their enterprise - health, fertility and breeding on 145 ha of owned and rented ground.

The herd has been closed for the last eight years and now yields of 10,000kg a cow are being maintained, Stephen who looks after the breeding side of the management is selecting dairy sires for butterfat and protein and he is using PLI as a main criteria.

“We are producing enough volume of milk now. I use PLI, and look at a bull’s scores for fertility, SCC and lifespan as well as butterfat and protein. This year I had an average PLI of £650 for AI sires used this year.

“I’m not looking to breed a big cow but one that is robust and balanced choosing bulls above 1.5TM with good scores for udders, feet and legs and rumps,” said Stephen, who is also using genomic bulls and is planning to genomically test his heifer calves this year.

Both brothers grew up on the family dairy farm and, in partnership, purchased 20 ha in 2001, running 40 spring calving suckler cows, selling calves at the autumn sales, as well as leasing a 243ha hill farm in the Sperrin Mountains carrying 550 hill ewes and followers. The hill farm was given up in 2014.

In 2007 they decided to invest in dairying, building a new unit on a greenfield site incorporating a 126-cow cubicle house with feed passage and underground slurry tank to comply with winter NVZ restrictions.

A calf house and calving pens were also constructed with the GEA 50⁰ 20/40 swing-over, fully computerised herringbone parlour and collecting installed in an existing shed on the farm. A silage pit was also built.

Further investment was made in 2009 in cubicle housing for heifers and since then they have added another silage pit, extended the calf house and built another cubicle house to accommodate 72 cows.

A further 20 ha has since been purchased adjoining the dairy unit. The farm is predominantly grass with 16ha of winter rye grown for wholecrop on the rented ground.

Stephen and Mark, who does all the machinery work and daily cow management with both sharing the morning milking, are focusing on fine-tuning their enterprise to help re-pay their investment.

The system is simple and traditional with cows milked twice a day, cows grazed during the summer and fed a TMR which is topped up to yield in the parlour.

They have key times of the year to concentrate on management tasks. They are a mainly autumn calving herd and calve 80% of the cows from October to December which suits their milk buyer Lacpatrick Dairies which produces milk powder.

This allows the attention to be turned in January and February to AI and fertility which is a priority.

“For the first six to eight weeks the cows are AId to the Holstein, followed by a beef triple mix of Hereford, Angus and British Blue which we find improves conception. At grass they are run with an Aberdeen Angus sweeper bull,” said Stephen. Heifers are AI’ed with Holstein sexed semen for four weeks then an Aberdeen Angus bull is introduced.

“I have a professional scanner who scans the herd every three weeks in the breeding season between December and April. He checks cows that have had problems, difficult calving etc. and cows not seen in heat after 42 days calved. He also PD’s cows and any not in calf can be treated to cycle again and try and get them back in calf as soon as possible.”

Further information is generated by the recent purchase of Cow Manager heat detection system which monitors activity via an ear tag.

Cows are turned out in April to October - this year it was full time - with attention during late summer on dry cows.

“It also gives us a chance to carry out any maintenance and a bit of time to plan ahead. Looking to the future we will strive to improve technical efficiency by using the latest technology and innovation. Implementing and applying these new technologies will be a challenge but you have to keep moving forward and learn new ways of doing things to keep one step ahead and stay in business.”

Gold Cup judges for 2018 are RABDF chairman and south Gloucestershire-based producer Mike King, NMR’s Jonathan Davies, Somerset-based producer and former Gold Cup winner Neil Baker, and Rob Hitch, partner with Dodd & Co accountants, Carlisle. They will name the winner and runner-up of the 2018 NMR RABDF Gold Cup at the Dairy-Tech event, Stoneleigh Park, Warwickshire on February 6, 2019.

Farm facts

- Autumn calving

- 145ha - 40 ha owned, 105ha rented

- 180 pedigree Holstein cows, 68 in-calf heifers and 60 heifer calves

- Yield 10,074kg of milk at 3.93% butterfat and 3.22% protein. Twice a day milking

- SCC 136,000 cells/ml

-Calving interval 375 days