Improving farm efficiency is top priority for dairy farmer, Ian McClelland who recently started a new dairy farm near Banbridge, Co. Down. Ian will be hosting visitors to Creevy House Farm on 12 September 2017, in the first of three AgriSearch and AFBI ‘Dairy Innovation in Practice’ roadshows.

The visit to Ian’s farm will be complemented with two similar events, kindly hosted by Aidan McManus, Cloniff, Co. Fermanagh on Wednesday 13 September and by David Hunter, Newtownstewart, Co. Tyrone on Thursday 14 September.

Returning from a period of time working in the construction industry, Ian started farming on the 40ha site in March 2015 converting what was previously a beef and youngstock farm, owned by the family, to a dairy enterprise. Reducing costs by undertaking much of the construction himself, Ian started by installing a 12-point, swing-over dairy parlour to begin milking in March 2015 and is currently in the process of building new dairy cow accommodation for 75 cows.

Ian now manages an autumn-spring calving herd of 70 Holstein-Friesian cows with ambitions to increase herd size to around 100 cows in the near future. In 2016, the herd averaged 8700 litres per cow with over 3500 litres produced from forage.

Host farmer Ian McClelland with Dr Debbie McConnell from AFBI discussing plans for the Dairy Innovation in Practice farm walks taking place on 12 -14 September.
Host farmer Ian McClelland with Dr Debbie McConnell from AFBI discussing plans for the Dairy Innovation in Practice farm walks taking place on 12 -14 September.

For Ian, efficient grazing and silage management is the key to ensuring tight control of feed costs throughout the year. “During the winter we operate a simple system of grass silage blocks and in-parlour concentrate feeding, so if we want to target over 9000 litres per cow and 4000 litres from forage this doesn’t leave much room for error in our silage making” Ian comments. Close attention to detail at silage time has paid off for Ian with the 2017 first and second cut silage having a metabolisable energy (ME) of 12.3 and 11.5 MJ/kg DM, respectively.
Ian is also one of twelve dairy farmers taking part in AFBI and AgriSearch’s GrassCheck project.  As part of this network, he has been monitoring grass growth and quality throughout the season. Having grown an average of 10.3t DM/ha across the grazing platform last year, Ian is keen to further boost productivity of the grazing platform by renewing underperforming swards. Ian comments “I started measuring and recording grass growth last year and from this it is clear which fields were underperforming. We are in the process of reseeding the worst paddocks and we are also looking at soil pH, P and K in more detail.”

Looking to the future Ian, who undertakes monthly benchmarking as part of his local CAFRE dairy discussion group, aims to move the herd to an autumn block calving system and is currently reviewing his herd replacement policy. “We are targeting a 24 month old age at first calving to further reduce heifer rearing costs and now that we are approaching target numbers we will move to a closed herd to reduce risk of introducing disease. Doing this will also help us breed the animal we want for the future.”

AFBI demonstrations at all three farm walks will cover a range of dairy related issues, including the importance of good calf rearing and animal health programmes to winter feeding practices and grassland management. The events which are being organised in partnership with AgriSearch, the Ulster Grassland Society and CAFRE, will start at 10.30 am on each host farm, with tours leaving every 30 minutes and lasting approximately 2.5 hours. The last tour will start at 12.30 pm. Pre-booking for these events is essential. Please visit www.afbini.gov.uk/events to register for your preferred timeslot before 8 September.  Some time slots are either full or filling fast, so early booking is advised.

In the interests of biosecurity those attending are asked to wear clean clothing not previously worn while in direct contact with their own animals. Outdoor work boots should not be worn. Protective overalls and footwear will be provided.