Coming home to changing fortunes
Darragh McCullough meets with Dairy Farmer of the Year, David Moore, to discuss his decision to abandon furniture sales for the challenges of dairying
Published 18/06/2014 | 02:30
He is jokingly referred to as the 'gentleman' farmer in the Moore household, but there can be no doubting that David Moore has made a big impact on the family farm since he packed in a job in sales four years ago.
"I came home with the tail between my legs, like a lot of other lads.
"But I was lucky that my dad had always been open to any of us changing direction," said the 32-year-old.
David was also lucky in his timing. Two years previously, David's older brother, Bill, also decided to walk away from a good job in the city to go farming.
He decided his best bet was in New Zealand, where he now manages a large dairy herd.
But by 2010, the brothers' dad, Robbie, realised that he wasn't able to keep going at the same rate for ever.
Despite David's younger brother, John, working full time on the 100-cow herd, there was suddenly a requirement for another labour unit.
It was an opportunity that David seized with both hands. Since coming home to join forces with John and Robbie, the Moore's pedigree Fowlerstown herd has undergone something of a revolution.
From a point where they were selling 6,900l of milk per cow, their most recent results show that they delivered 9,023l per cow with the same amount of meal in 2013.
To be fair, David had a head start. The Moores always ran a prize pedigree Holstein Friesian herd, with David's grandfather winning prizes in the RDS for the Fowlerstown prefix 60 years ago.
But the herd had fallen into the same trap that many elite breeders have succumbed to – chasing high-classification scores and rosettes, while milk sales became an almost secondary objective.
"No pedigree breeder milk records on a wet day," is the wry assessment of the traditional benchmark for productivity from the east Meath man.
"It can be a bit of a racket really. We are one of only four farms in the country that delivered more than 9,000l per cow in Glanbia last year. And our delivered milk solids of 669kg per cow is the highest. Yet, we'll barely register in our local herds competition for production," he said.
"Some pedigree breeders have lost touch with reality. They still won't accept that fertility and calving interval are crucial.
"Everything I see proves to me that the guys with the high EBI cows are the ones making the most profit. But lots of pedigree men still won't accept that.
"We were the same. 'We'll hang on to her because she's classified excellent and will look well in the herds competition'. Now we'll cull her if she doesn't go in calf."
Of course, the Moores are not without their challenges, too. Calf mortality hit double digits over the past year. David puts it down to IBR, which they have only started vaccinating for.
"We've basically had a closed herd, so we didn't think that we needed to be vaccinating for something like this," he said.
One of the silver linings to their brush with IBR was that the tests and post mortems also revealed a significant mineral deficiency in the bloods.
The Moores had traditionally relied on the mineral supplements that were being carried through the meals to cover the cows' requirements for iodine, cobalt, copper and selenium.
But a new approach to grassland management has halved the amount of meal that they are feeding, while maintaining milk yields.
"We are on target to feed 1.3t of meal per cow this year. That's half of what we fed last year, or what we fed four years ago. It means that our concentrate costs have fallen from 8c/l to about 2.9c/l this year," said David.
"We didn't start measuring grass until four years ago and we were turning cows out into covers up to their knees.
"I really owe it to Teagasc's Joe Patton and the rest of the lads in the Bru na Boinne group that I joined because I learned so much from them."
The Moores were worried that they were going to be under feeding their cows turning them out into covers of 1,400-1,500kg/ha drymatter (DM).
But after three weeks and the milk tank still full, they've never looked back. The addition of another 12ha to the grazing platform has also helped increase the proportion of grass in the cows' diet.
"We reckon that we're utilised about 10.5tDM/ha last year. That should be up again this year, since we've already grown an additional 1.5tDM/ha with the great growing conditions of the last couple of weeks," aded David.
PLANNING FOR FUTURE GROWTH IS A PRIORITY
Expansion is another topic that is high on Mr Moore's agenda.
The family succeeded in getting access to an adjoining 12ha block that had been set aside for the past number of years, but only after many years of canvassing.
"We're working hard on trying to get access to more land because we're farming 250ac in a lot of fragmented blocks at the moment. That's really killing us in terms of productivity, but it's a lot easier said than done," said Moore.
For now, they are installing drains, fencing and laying out paddocks on the new part of their grazing platform.
But there are also plans to construct an additional 150 cubicles and put up a 24-unit rapid exit parlour.
"We've probably been investing about €60,000 a year every year over the last five years on the strength of good milk prices.
"Our cow numbers have also crept up and we plan to increase by 40 head to 150 next year.
"But we have made mistakes along the way too, with a new 10-unit parlour installed just three years ago.
"I fought hard on that one, but I wasn't really here long enough to have that strong a veto," he said.
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