McMurran’s are top of the NMR for 300 cows

Darren and Stuart McMurran with Brian McCarron, left Genus ABS and David McCord, right, RMS Technician and Team Leader, Genus ABS on the McMurran farm at Castlevennon, Banbridge. Photograph: Columba O'Hare
Darren and Stuart McMurran with Brian McCarron, left Genus ABS and David McCord, right, RMS Technician and Team Leader, Genus ABS on the McMurran farm at Castlevennon, Banbridge. Photograph: Columba O'Hare

With an annual yield of 12,044 kgs in their 300 cow herd, Darren and Stuart McMurran, who farm at Castlevennon Road, Banbridge, have the top placed production herd in Northern Ireland in the National Milk Record’s Annual Production report for 2014.

But high yields are only part of their success. They have also had the second highest yielding cow and claimed first place in genetic management.

This is a far cry from 20 years ago when the brothers started dairy farming with 30 cows and an annual yield of 6,500 litres. Darren commented: “At that time an annual yield of 10,000 litres was just a dream!”

Congratulating the McMurran’s on their achievement Chris Keys from NMR outlined the figures for the herd which showed an annual yield of 12044 kgs with butterfat at 3.67% and protein at 3.03%. The heifer yield was 11,343 kgs at 3.47 % butterfat and 2.94% protein.

What is the secret of their success?

Darren explains: “Constantly evaluate what you are doing, keep up to date with new knowledge and developments, utilise fully the expertise and advice of everyone who has an input to the farm, and after that, a lot of hard work.

“For example, NMR’s herd recording service enables us to see exactly what is happening with each cow in the herd and the genetic management advice from Genus ABS has helped us to continually improve the breeding, production, health and longevity of the herd. They have also facilitated opportunities to access new research and ideas, for example a visit to America where we saw an on-farm pasteuriser being used to pasteurise cows milk for the calves and have since purchased one for our own herd.”

The McMurran herd is housed all year round with three times a day milking in a swing over, 24 a side parlour. Wholecrop maize and silage is fed in a TMR system with a top up according to yield in the parlour.

Seven years ago they were introduced to Genus’ RMS system by Brian McCarron, with the cows being walked every day by an experienced technician and AI’d at the optimum time.

Darren commented: “Initially this seems an expensive system but when you witness the improvement in heat detection, the feedback of information from the system and its analysis then it is a definite advantage for the larger herd. Never judge any system on the initial cost – do your sums and analyse the benefits in addition to looking at the system on other farms.

“The breeding decisions and genetic management of the herd has been left entirely in the hands of Genus ABS. In the early stages of the herd we were using bulls and were unable to quantify or analyse what was happening. We work very closely with the entire team from Genus ABS, whose advice with regards fertility has been a great help in building up the herd.”

James Woods, RMS Manager with Genus ABS, further explains: “The initial aim behind the genetic progress in this herd was to increase yields, using sires such as Bolton and Shottle. This certainly realised an improvement in milk yields and more recently the emphasis has been on Health and fitness traits, using sires such as Classic and some of the Jeeves sons. The Genetic Management System,( GMS), has been used for six years on the entire herd, with the aim being to continue building a cow suitable for the system the McMurran’s operate.”

The herd is run in four groups – dry cows, young heifers, high yielders and freshly calved cows. There is a lot of emphasis on dry cow management in order to prepare them for the next lactation. The farm employs two full time staff and some part time help.

Calves are in hutches until eight weeks old when they are grouped and are weaned over two weeks on an automatic feeder. A close eye is kept on growth and they are weighed and measured for bulling at 13 months and calving at 24 months. At present there are 270 animals in the heifer group, due to the aim to build the herd to 450 cows within the next year, while accommodation is being built to facilitate this.