Northern Ireland father and son farming show scene celebrities Cyril and Martin Millar from Coleraine are no strangers to the pedigree business, being well known in the Charolais and Texels world across the UK and Ireland for their tireless commitment and dedication at shows, sales and in the office in the NI Club, and also at the British Charolais Cattle Society, where Cyril was Chairman and President.
But they are both are still relatively new to the dairy business, having entered milk production just ten years ago now in a bid for a more regular and substantial income for their growing family.
It was a bold move to enter dairying, coming as it did on top of an already busy lifestyle. Not only was Cyril busy with the farm’s 650 acres and 200 ewes (of which 50 are pedigree Texels), he also had to chip in and help at their Glenleary Farm Bed & Breakfast just outside Coleraine, which he runs with his wife Ann. And Martin and his wife Cathy have had their hands full over the years with their young children Charlie and Bella.
The farm’s dairying story starts with the purchase of a 110-cow herd from Dumfriesshire in 2008. A majority of the cows were sired by Holmland Missle, who was a Goldwyn son, which put a really good base into the herd, says Cyril. Adding to this were drafts which were purchased to grow the herd quickly, but this was not the ideal long-term situation.
“Buying-in a complete herd has the advantage of having no adjustment period for cow hierarchies and maximises the herd’s biosecurity; but this option for the number of animals we wanted was not available to us in one go,” he adds.
“We also had to be mindful of TB, which is a recurrent problem in our area, and we lost quite a few animals to this terrible disease.”
But with a herd base in place the farm decided to increase breeding cow numbers the fastest way possible – by breeding the first generation of heifers to Semex sexed semen. It was also a more economical way than buying-in replacements from a cash-flow perspective.
“We needed to use sexed semen to multiply the herd in the quickest way possible, and to get the fastest genetic gain possible,” says Martin “We also needed our heifers to be easy calving from a time and management perspective. We don’t have time to calve cows all the time!”
Bulls were chosen in conjunction with Semex’s Andrew Kennedy, with the right sire matched to each heifer by using the firm’s highly advanced sire match programme Promate. Sires chosen included Masterful, Bryant, Sammy and Lineman.
“Because sexed semen is more expensive we made sure all the insemination protocols were carefully followed, and adopted a CIDR-based synchronisation programme which gives us a fantastic 60% conception rate,” he says.
The programme on Day 1 is Receptal and CIDR, followed by Estromate on Day 8 and Receptal 48hrs after. AI’ing then takes place some 60 hours later.
And Cyril believes they can push these results to 80% by installing ai24 Sensetime system that would maximise the heat detection and result in more optimal timings for insemination. Currently the heifers are calving down at 24-27months, but the aim is to breed them younger at 22 months.
Ten years on and the farm is flying, with the family now milking over 300 pedigree Holsteins three times daily, with the cows yielding an average of 9,700kgs at 4.06% butterfat and 3.23% protein. Fuelling the performance is a TMR of grass silage, 5kgs Northern Extra, a brewer’s extract, 1kg of hay, 7kgs 21% protein blend, 1kg forage saver and 4kgs of caustic wheat, with out of parlour feeders topping up the cows with additional feed, where necessary.
Cow performance is likely to be negatively affected by this year’s poor silage, admits Cyril. The milk is supplied to Lacpatrick Dairies, some 40 miles away from the farm.
And despite the success of the enterprise the farm isn’t sitting on its laurels. Far from it.
“Going forward we are selecting sires for PLI; and are focusing on fertility, producing cows with great udders and improving their all-round type. We are also intent on breeding a healthy herd so Immunity+ genetics will be a top priority, and this, I think, will come into its own - especially in our TB affected area. Our focus is to grow the herd to 400 cows with the aim to breed the next generation of the herd by genomically testing the heifers to identify the best of the best to breed the next generation of the herd from.”
In other words, a lot has happened over the last ten years but there’s still a lot of work to do yet. And does the family have any regrets over their move into milk?
“Not one,” concludes Martin. “It has been hard work, but great for the business. Bring on the next ten years!”