Project code: D-29-06

Duration 4 years

Launching the report

Team and Leader C. Ferris, A. Dale, N.O’Connell, S.Mayne, (ARINI, Hillsborough), M. McCoy (Veterinary Science Division), C.Watson (Agri Environment Division) and D.Anderson (Agri Food Economics Division)

Organisations Involved ARINI, VSD, AED & AFED

Background and Summary

The Northern Ireland dairy industry continues to face increasing pressures and challenges, including falling milk prices, increasing costs of inputs, ever increasing environmental pressures, labour shortages and increasing lifestyle expectations.  However, within this scenario, milk production systems on many farms have continued to become increasingly complex, and both capital and labour intensive.

Even Spring calving herds, which are traditionally considered to be low cost, are increasingly relying on purchased concentrates and conserved forage, the focus having moved away from maximising the use of grazed grass.  That this has occurred despite the stated aim of many farmers ‘to reduce the costs of milk production’, indicates a lack of confidence in predominantly grazed grass based systems. However, systems that maximise the use of grazed grass are adopted widely throughout the Republic of Ireland, and in both favourable and non-favourable parts of Northern Ireland.  There is evidence that, when well managed, these systems can result in reduced labour inputs, reduced capital investment, improved animal health and welfare, and improved ‘bottom line’ profits.  Whilst contrasting ‘winter calving’ systems of milk production have been examined at ARINI in a recently completed AgriSearch project, no similar evaluation has been made of contrasting ‘Spring calving’ systems, despite the fact that approximately 50% of cows in Northern Ireland calve from 1 January – 31st May.

Proposed programme:

The proposed programme will involve a total of 90 animals, including approximately 30 Jersey x Holstein crosses.  Three contrasting ‘farmlet systems’ will be established at ARINI, with systems likely to incorporate the following components:

System 1:     Maximise use of grazed grass (30 animals:  15 Holstein and 15 Jersey x Holstein crosses)

                                                Maximise milk from grazed forage
                                                Minimise use of conserved forage
                                                Use of saved grass
                                                Graze 80-100% of farm in Spring
                                                0.3 - 0.5 t concentrate (use concentrates only when short of grass)    
                                                Dry cows outwintered

System 2:    ‘Conventional’ spring calving system (30 animals:  15 Holstein and 15 Jersey x Holstein crosses)

                                                High yields from forage
                                                Increased use of conserved forage
                                                Conventional turnout
                                                Graze 40-50% of farm in Spring
                                                Dry cows mainly indoors
                                                Approximately 1.0 t concentrate

System 3:    High input spring calving system (30 animals:  Holstein)

                                                Increased reliance on concentrate and conserved forage
                                                Moderate inputs of grazed grass
                                                Buffer feeding/night time housing
                                                Approximately 1.5 – 2.0 t concentrate
                                                Complete diet feeding during winter period


Animal performance
Animal health and welfare    
Herbage quality, yield and sward persistency
Environment impact
Labour requirements
Costs and bottom line profit

Final report to be submitted to AgriSearch in October 2009.


The study is designed to provide clear guidance to Northern Ireland dairy farmers operating Spring calving systems.  The impact of management system on cow performance, labour requirements, and environmental sustainability will be key outcomes.  However, whole system profit based financial outcomes will be the ultimate end point.  This study will also provide important data for validation of the recently completed economic model which suggests that moderate input, spring calving milk production systems are the most profitable in N Ireland.  In addition, the study will provide scientific data on the performance of Jersey x Holstein cross dairy cows, relatively to pure Holstein dairy cattle, on two different Spring calving systems.

Relevant documents

A comparison of three contrasting systems of milk production for spring calving dairy cows (D-29-06) - Technical Report - Agrisearch

Improving nutrient management within intensive grassland-based systems of milk production (D-29-06) - Agrisearch


FileDescriptionFile size
Download this file (Final report for AgriSearch (D-29-06) Breed comparison.pdf)Comparison of Three Systems of Milk ProductionA comparison of three contrasting systems of milk production for Spring calving dairy cows - D-29-06819 kB