Marcus and Robert Graham milk 55 cows just outside Ederney, while Marcus also works as a Field Liaison Officer with Dale Farm, servicing the West of the province.
The herd is predominantly made up of Holstein Friesian cows, with about 20% Jerseys to help boost milk solids. The Graham’s own 95 acres and rent another 30 to 40 depending on availability. Youngstock replacements are reared on the farm with numbers typically around 30 head. Average yields in the herd are approaching 7,000 litres at 4.42% butterfat and 3.43% protein.
The 12-month SCC average is 129 with a Bactocount average of 22. Some poorer quality silage this winter has necessitated higher feed rates and Marcus expects to feed 1.7T meal per cow per this year.
Considering that feed is the largest cost on any dairy unit, Marcus has taken up the offer through Dale Farm to track his herd’s performance using the Margin Over Purchased Feed recording service, which is being delivered in partnership with Kingshay Independent Dairy Consultants.
A significant amount of development has been undertaken in recent years. This includes the erection of an underground slurry store three years ago to replace the existing lagoon. The extra capacity has enabled cow numbers to be increased to their present level. An old silo was also converted with a new tank and fitted out with cubicles.
Following this the existing cubicle house was extended to enable cows more feeding space and then 18 months ago a new parlour was installed. This took the form of a DeLaval 10-point swing over with Auto ID. Simple batch feeders were installed to keep costs to a minimum and allow a flat rate feed in the parlour while out of parlour feeders with feed to yield allow cows to be fed according to their individual requirements.
All silage making is carried out with the use of own labour and takes the form of round bales. Marcus likes the fact that this gives them flexibility and control over cutting dates while reducing the need for heavy machinery from contractors which could damage the heavier soils on this farm.
Having seen the benefits offered in labour saving by the new parlour the Graham’s decided to invest in an auto wash for the parlour which again cuts down on milking times allowing Marcus to concentrate on other Dale Farm duties. The auto wash uses the hot water from a recently installed Flogas gas water heating system which he sourced through Tankcare.
Expansion of the herd meant a new bulk tank was required so Tankcare sourced and installed a tank which is washed using the water from the Flogas heating system. The advantage of instantaneous hot water means there is always water to mix calf milk and no money is wasted heating water unnecessarily.
Following significant improvements to the infrastructure on the farm it was evident that animal performance could be improved to match the extra comfort provided, particularly in relation to fertility. With Marcus away from home most of the day heat detection was often being neglected and too many heats weren’t being seen. To address this, he opted to install SenseHub which Dairy Herd Management provided and installed six months ago.
The results have been impressive with Marcus a great advocate of the information it provides. Initially he only installed the basic software package which covers heat detection but having seen how successful this has been he decided to upgrade to the Advanced version a couple of weeks ago which also has a rumination function.
Marcus has been amazed by the difference the system has made in detecting heats and he feels in the region of 70% of the heats that the system has detected would previously have been missed due to no one being around to see them. He also likes the assurance SenseHub provides as he is now more confident that the heat event is genuine which means he isn’t wasting valuable straws of sexed semen on cows which might not be in season.
Prior to installing SenseHub the calving interval as recorded by milk recording was 450 days but with cows served earlier than ever before it is anticipated this will improve rapidly this year. The accuracy of the system also encouraged the Graham’s to bring five heifers from an out farm back to get served and within three weeks of returning to the main farm they were all served and have since been confirmed pregnant.
Even though Marcus is away from home during the day he can monitor what’s happening as he gets alerts to his phone that cows are in heat or if they have a health alert. He can use the SenseHub App at any stage to check individual cows’ activity or rumination patterns and it’s also useful to check if a sick cow is starting to recover after treatment. In addition, if he wants to view the information on a computer screen while in the office that is also an option.
The current policy in the herd is to serve all cows once or sometimes twice with sexed semen with Aberdeen Angus or Belgian Blue then used at subsequent services. This is helping to breed fertility into the herd with the beef calves sold in Omagh mart at four weeks old which helps to provide an additional source of cashflow.
Overall Marcus is delighted with the SenseHub investment citing it as one of the best purchases he’s ever made. As ever he is keen to develop the farm and animal performance further and next on the list for improvements is an upgrade to the dry cow housing. Earlier in the year the next generation of Graham’s was added to the family so Marcus appreciates the time savings offered by his recent investments and will no doubt look to other labour-saving options as he strives to achieve a sensible work-life balance.
For more information on SenseHub contact Dairy Herd Management on 028 9037 2099 or David Patterson on 07900 248 073.