Tucked away into the hills in County Armagh lies The Hollow, home to the Irvine family. David Irvine who farms with his dad William and mum Ruth is the 8th generation to farm the 250-acre dairy unit.
Two years ago David and his dad had the sole objective of gaining control over the destiny of their herd breeding strategy.
With this in mind they invested in Ai24, the cow monitoring system from Semex, for their heifers. Having come from a policy of synchronising all heifers and calving pretty much all year round the father and son team wanted to tighten the calving pattern, gain more control and use more sexed semen speeding up the genetic gains.
Improving herd health has also been a goal of the Irvine family and they are determined to strive for a healthier herd where they can. As Ai24 provides accurate information on reproduction, health and nutrition the breeding strategy is well underway.
“So far so good,” says David. “Last year we had 65 heifer calves from the genetics we want at the time we want them which far exceeded our expectations.”
Investment in a new Boumatic parlour was made in 2007 with 14 each side which enables an efficient milking time of just over an hour for David. The family team milk three times a day throughout the winter (October to April) with a relief milker taking care of the night time milking. In the summer the cows are grazed on a 21 paddock three-week grazing cycle and milking is reduced to twice a day.
The cows are fed to yield on a diet of silage and maize produced on the farm. Silage production is one of the few jobs outsourced with a local contractor taking care of the three cuts which the farm bears.
The bulls used on the farm are from Semex’s Immunity + range. John Berry, Regional Manager for Semex NI says: “David and William have been able to improve the health of their herd without compromising on other traits which are important to them such as fertility and lifespan.”
David continues: “We always want to breed something that will last and get back in calf. I know what I like when I get it and I like to see healthy animals. I get a huge amount of satisfaction in seeing a healthy heifer calf born. Moreover, a healthier calf is an easier reared calf.”
With a quiet confidence in their breeding strategy David speaks of his future plans: “We hope to invest in a new heifer house as all our heifers are currently housed in what was our beef shed as we could never plan for what we were going to get.
“We have no desire to increase our overall cow numbers but we can now plan for more dairy heifer calves and still fill the beef shed and take advantage of any beef premiums that may come around.”
All is peaceful at The Hollow which leaves the impression of a business well equipped to face any challenges the milk market may face and more importantly take advantage of the opportunities that arise.