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Friday 27 April 2018

Carlow student on milking 770 cows in New Zealand

Jamie Doran
Jamie Doran
Catherine Hurley

Catherine Hurley

As a compulsory part of second semester, Agricultural Science students in Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT) have to complete 15 weeks work placement. Jamie Doran .

Jamie Doran a third year Agricultural Science student at WIT and part-time Kildalton Agricultural college headed to New Zealand's South Island, where he's working on a 770-cow dairy farm.

He farms in partnership with his father, Martin, at Ballymurphy, Co. Carlow, where they run both beef and sheep enterprises.

Pencarrow Farm is owned by Andy and Tricia MacFarlane and Andy has his own farm advisory company based in Ashburton where Andy and his clients provide multi-disciplinary advice to the agricultural sector in the Canterbury region.

The farm has a 235ha effective milking platform, and according to Jamie, it's not like your typical mid Canterbury farm as the top end of the farm has a number of large trees and the rest of the farm is well broken up with shelter belts which provide shade for the cows on the hot summer days and excellent shelter for the wet and windy days.

At Pencarrow, 770 cows are split into two herds. The main breeds are Friesian, Jersey and Kiwi cross and they are milked in a 50-unit rotary parlour.

Morning milking starts at 4.45am and usually takes 75 minutes per herd. In the afternoon, milking starts at 2pm and takes 60 minutes per herd.

"At the moment the cows are receiving 1kg of supplementary feed in the shed consisting of crushed wheat and palm kernel. In the paddock they receive 20kg DM/day and up to recently some pre-graze mowing was done to increase dry matter levels in the paddocks.

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"For the past three weeks or so the cows have been receiving some baled silage with the aim of increasing the round length and maximising cover in the paddocks. Also this week the feeding of fodder beet has start and the cows are getting 1.5kg (20pc DM) in the paddock. 

The cows are milking well at the moment producing 1.7kg ms/day, according to Jamie, which is just over the target of 1.65kg ms/day for the month of March.

"At peak production in October the cows produced 2.1kg ms/day. The aim for this season was to produce 485kg/ms/cow but the extreme hot weather in November meant that the cows dropped off peak a lot faster than normal and decreased that aim to 475kg/ms/cow which would be 100pc of their live weight!"

Key farm stats

  • Farm size: 235ha
  • Cow numbers: 770
  • Milking parlour: 50-unit rotary parlour
  • Peak production: 2.1kg ms/day

The soil here is a stony silt loam type soil, according to Jamie, but it is very fertile and free draining with a water holding capacity of 99, according to Brad and Viana Fallaver - the managers on the farm.

"Pencarrow is fully irrigated using a mixture of set sprinklers, k-lines, a rotorainer, 3 pivots and a lateral. These are typically all the types of irrigation that would be used in the Canterbury region. There are a number of soil moisture probes throughout the farm allowing us to constantly monitor soil moisture levels, indicating when to irrigate and how much water to apply to the pastures."

In 2008 a 3ha storage pond was developed at the top end of the farm to hold water from the Lyndhurst irrigation scheme. The water is diverted from a main alpine river, gravity fed and naturally pressurised with 8 bar of pressure to irrigation points on the farm.

This type of irrigation is very efficient comparing to its predecessor, the border-dyke system where the land would be flooded, washing valuable nutrients through the soil and furthermore polluting ground waters, Jamie says.

"The weather has very good since I came over in mid-January. When we landed in Christchurch it was 34°C – something I had never experienced before! The highest temperature was recorded just a couple of weeks ago when it reached 36°C in south Canterbury.

"The drought back in December saw a huge increase in soil temperature (over 20 °C) and grass growth declined as a result along with dry matter levels. The irrigation couldn’t keep up with the blistering heat and 7-8 mm of water was lost due to evaporation each day during the drought.

"The rain in early January meant that there was a sudden burst in growth, grass grew too quickly and went to seed early meaning that quality was reduced having a direct effect on milk production. This, along with sub-tropical air coming down from the north in recent times was something that the cows didn’t like and as a result they spent a lot of time in the shade which meant that intakes were down."

A cyclone in February saw 45mm of constant rain fall by 9am, which was almost the expected average monthly rainfall for February, and by 9pm a staggering 110mm of rain had fallen.

The cows will be dried off at the end of May and wintered off-farm where they will be receiving up to 10kg fodder beet, 2kg silage and 2kg of straw per day. From there they will be brought back in calving groups and calved on the farm with a 68pc six-week calving rate.

The Canterbury region has mainly dairy and tillage enterprises with a few sheep farms in between and typical yields for wheat and barley, coming from irrigated land would be 10t/ha, maize -30t/ha, fodder beet 25-30t/ha, kale – 12t/ha.


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