Farm Ireland

Tuesday 26 March 2019

FarmIreland Instagram Takeover: Meet the young woman running a dairy and sheep farm

Anna Truesdale runs a dairy and sheep farm with her father.
Anna Truesdale runs a dairy and sheep farm with her father.
Catherine Hurley

Catherine Hurley

Anna Truesdale runs a dairy and sheep farm with her father, Mark and brother, William in Newcastle, Co.Down, home to Castletru Holsteins and helping run the Farmireland Instagram account (today) Thursday.

Anna is heading into her final year of college and hopes to become an independent advisor in the future, while still working on the family farm.

The farm in Newcastle is home to a 90-cow pedigree Holstein herd and 150-ewe flock comprised of a mixture of commercial mules, pedigree registered Dorsets and pedigree registered Texel on 150-acre grazing platform in Northern Ireland.

Except for June and July, the pedigree Holstein dairy herd calve all year round. 

Traditionally breeding a Holstein type cow, breeding based on production, the Truesdales made the move to pedigree status in 1989.

“We chose Holstein based on their production and went pedigree to increase the stock value and ability to sell surplus breeding stock to boost income”.

They are now starting to cross some of the larger Holstein cows to Friesian, according to Anna.

“It’s more of an experiment to see if they’re more suited,” said the Newcastle farmer. “We’ve used some of the higher PLI fresian bulls and crossed onto some of the more extreme Holstein cows to see if we can find a better ‘middle ground’."

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“We are breeding now based on solids and health,” said Anna whose father carries out all the AI on the farm and they use a Hereford bull to clean up.

“We don’t keep the beef calves and the Hereford bulls sell better than the Holstein would,” she said. Currently cows are calving all year round, with the bulk of the heifers calving in autumn. “We’re trying to move the cows towards a more autumn system, for a flush of winter milk. This way we can avail of the winter milk bonuses from Lakeland”

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Cows have been housed all year round for the first time this year due to management issues explained Anna. “This year it worked out very well, we knew exactly what they were getting in terms of intakes and we weren’t as severely affected by this year’s drought as other farmers around us,” she said.

The cows are now feeding from last year’s third cut bales, fed through the diet feeder. “They’re getting 2.9t of meal a year on average, through the parlour and TMR,” she said.

“Almost 90pc of the milking platform is on rented ground and we moved indoors to maximise our production on the limited ground we have,” said the Newcastle farmer. “It’s mostly conacre and once the Single Farm Payment was changed in Northern Ireland, there were more active farmers locally, so we lost out on quite a bit of land,” she explained.

“Holsteins aren’t great to graze down the grass anyway so this way we get the most out of the restricted ground we have,” she said. “This year it worked out quite well for us

Cows pass through a foot bath twice a day, “it’s been important for us to try and keep digital dermatitis under control this year, especially now that the cows are in the house for the full season”. 

Success is no stranger to the Truesdale’s with Mark, Anna’s father, winning best Medium Dorset Flock in Northern Ireland in 2017. The Truesdales are kept busy all year round with their sheep, the Dorset, commercials and Texels all lamb separately through the year. Dorsets lamb from September onwards, commercials lamb during Christmas and January and Texels are saved until February.

The pick of the best pedigree young stock will stay on farm and will either be bred or sold privately at breeding sales. Commercial lambs are fattened on grass and either sold fat or else as stores depending on grass availability.

 Anna’s passion for agriculture shines through her work and studies. The Ag-enthusiast just finished her placement year in the Agriculture and Technology course in Queens University and Greenmount College in Co Antrim.

For Anna's professional work placement she spent the past year with AgriSearch, the levy body of Northern Ireland and surveyed over 200 farmers about grass production and what’s stopping them utilising more grass on their farms. Anna quickly realised that farmers need independent advisors to guide them and not just to sell them their product.

Future Plans

“In the long-term, I would love to work independently, and have my own advisory company, whilst also allowing myself the freedom to continue to work on the home farm,” she said.

Anna also said she is hoping to finish college and work from home as much as possible - “I don’t think I’d ever be able to give that up!”

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