Emyvale producer is the cream of co-op suppliers

Award winning Co Monaghan milk producer Darran McKenna, left,  with JP Harkin of Volac.
Award winning Co Monaghan milk producer Darran McKenna, left, with JP Harkin of Volac.

Darran McKenna, who farms on the outskirts of Emyvale, Co Monaghan and supplies LacPatrick, won the 2018 overall NDC and Kerrygold Quality Milk Award.

This event is open to the top co-op suppliers across the Irish Republic and Darren was praised for outstanding performance in all aspects of milk production.

Average yield of the McKenna’s 106 cows milked in 2018 was 6,600l/cow, with protein at 3.45% and fat at 4.25%. The bad spring and summer drought resulted in a substantial lift in meal fed to 1.2t/cow.

Rearing top-quality replacement heifers that meet critical growth targets and reach the required frame and weight at calving by 24 months is a key feature of herd management. Darran regards the performance of calves from birth to weaning as crucial to lifetime performance.

That is where Heiferlac plays an important part in herd success, Darran having fed Volac Heiferlac milk replacer to replacement heifer calves for the past three years.

This tailor-made high-protein milk replacer is formulated to achieve maximum performance and fast frame growth in the critical birth to weaning period. When fed at 900g/day in conjunction with ad-lib concentrates, roughage and fresh water, it can deliver a growth rate of 0.9kg/day.

All bull calves and April-born heifer calves are sold at two to three weeks old. Around 40 heifer calves are fed Heiferlac each year on a computerised feeder. Early and adequate colostrum is a golden rule. The calves are fed colostrum and cow’s milk for the first seven days and then moved on to the feeder and fed Heiferlac.

It is mixed at 125g per litre and calves are programmed to consume eight litres/day at peak. This amounts to a feeding level of 1kg/day of Heiferlac. Concentrates, water and straw are available at all times.

They are weaned after 70 days on the feeder, at which time they are eating between 1.5kg and 2kg of concentrate/day. They go to grass in mid-April, weather-permitting, and are fed concentrate for a month on grass.

Since moving to Heiferlac three years ago Darran is delighted with the performance of his calves. “It is an excellent milk replacer and gives great performance,” he said.

He puts jackets on all the calves for the first three to four weeks. “I bought 16 jackets the first year. They made the calves a lot more comfortable and protected them from any draughts. I now have jackets for all the heifer calves.”

He is calving 140 cows and heifers this year. Calving started in early February and 70% had calved by 1 March. Thirty April-calvers will be sold, leaving him with 110 to be milked.

“I could milk more, but I’ve decided for lifestyle reasons to stay at around 110,” he said.

His wife Denise works off farm and they have four children, Daithí, Caragh, Micheál and Annie.