Very few would argue that the last eight months have not been challenging for dairy farmers. However how would you feel if those last eight months were your first eight months into a new dairy enterprise?
This is the case for cousins David and Ian Henry from Armoy. With a long family history in suckler beef, these two young men decided to go into partnership to develop a high quality sustainable dairy business.
David has worked on the farm since leaving Greenmount whilst also doing local contracting. Ian was an electrical contractor who was looking for an opportunity to settle back home with his young family. The farm is located in the townland of Carrowlaverty overlooking Armoy with almost a third of it categorised as hill ground.
The minute you walk on to the farm you know they are serious. New housing, clean and tidy yard, a well maintained silage clamp and most of all a very content group of cows.
Ian explains their herd choice. “We decided on a mix of British Fresian/Holstein with Fleckvieh. The former gives us the volume platform whilst the Fleckvieh provide the quality along with ease of management. All heifers, the fact that they are easy calvers will also help us cope with our first calving.”
Results to date speak for themselves. An average of 6,000 litres with the target of 8,000 clearly in their sight.
Milking 64 heifers, with 20 coming forward, it has certainly been a major lifestyle change for both Ian and David. “I used to work with our suckler herd along with contracting work,” explains David. “So the hours were more flexible with the obvious busy periods around harvesting. Now it is much more regular and of course I have alot still to learn.”
Ian agrees: “Yes the work is more intense, however my wife would point out at least I spend more time close to home as previously I had to travel alot as an electrical contractor. You can ask her if that is a good thing or not,” he says with a wry grin. “However,” David adds, “our fathers are still keeping their hands at the beef and sheep with thirty five cows and a hundred breeding ewes, so if we ever have a spare moment we know where we are expected to be!”
So how has the last eight months been? Challenging but very enjoyable they both agree. “We obviously put a lot of effort and thought into what we are doing, so it is always good to see exactly how we are doing,” enthuses David.
The fact that the two cousins are happy to talk together and have a laugh about the stresses and strains at least shows that their partnership is working well on a personal level.
“Yes, because we knew each other well means we know who is best at doing what and what each of us don’t enjoy. For example Ian would be the milker whilst I deal with the movement of the herd, bedding and feeding,” explains David. “Also as my background is also in contracting, I would tend to do much of the machinery work.”
And what about grassland management? “We would both admit that achieving a high quality silage and grazing was never a priority in the past. However I understand the impact it can have when you are aiming for an intensive output,” says David.
With a grassland base of 220 acres, 90 is now closed off for silage. “It has been a slow start however we got the cows out a week earlier on 23rd April. We just hope the forecasted change in the weather doesn’t set us back,” worries Ian. One thing was for sure, the good temperament of the cows could clearly be seen, when on their first day out, a stranger could easily walk up through them without a second glance.
Slurry and fertiliser is all out, so the cousins are now hoping the weather will play its part. Silage will be harvested by themselves using a trailed precision chop. “We are realy aiming high on the quality stakes as we know how much it can cost you later on,” exclaims David.
“We have to thank Moores Animal Feeds for pointing us in this direction. It isn’t often you get a company promoting a practice that means less business for them!” Looking at the clamp from last year it is clear they do know what they are about with good compaction, a sharp face and no waste.
“Our Dads always reinforced in us, there is no point in doing something unless you do it right, so more work in the clamp means a better outcome with less waste,” says Ian.
“This is an important factor as the author pointed out to them that 10t of wasted silage takes 3t of blend or concentrates to replace.
“Yes we fully understand the need for efficient silage production,” agrees David.
“I have contracted for many intensive dairy farmers and so am aware of the focus they put on cutting at the right time, getting it in right, rolling and sealing. I am also a believer in silage additives as most farmers I worked for would always use it no matter what the conditions.”
So which additive to go for? “Yes there is a lot of choice out there but we will be using Sil-All 4x4+ because of its reputation and ease of use. It is a lot of money to be making mistakes at application,” advises Ian. “You simply mix it to whatever dilution rate you want and off you go.”
In the long term reseeding plans are in place and the cousins hope to develop an outlet for Fleckvieh pedigree bulls.
“When we embarked on this, we realised it wasn’t just about milking cows. To be sustainable we also needed good grassland management, quality breeding and a profitable trade in beef stock,” summarises Ian.
“We have got this far with very low milk prices, so hopefully it will stand us in good stead for the future.”
Given the common view that there is a lack of youth, vitality and optimism in the industry, David and Ian certainly buck the trend. They know what is ahead of them and get on well to get the job done.
David concludes with a note of wisdom: “The key will be the relationship between myself and Ian. If we don’t get on, the farm won’t move on.” And never one to miss an opportunity David requests,:“Don’t forget to mention we still do contracting work!”