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How simple measures help this farmer cope with calving nearly 200 cows in one month


Labour efficient measures do not necessarily cost a lot and can be very simple, according to one expanding dairy farmer.

Phil Purcell, from Ballykeeffe, Kilmanagh, Co Kilkenny urged farmers at the Teagasc National Dairy Conference to ensure that they look after those that are working on the farm and themselves as the busy spring calving period approaches.

Addressing the topic of getting ready for spring, Mr Purcell, who runs the farm with his wife Miriam, said “no matter how prepared you are February can be intense” but he always thinks about the light at the end of the tunnel.

In 2018, the Purcell farm will calve 228 cows, with around 170 of the cows due to calve in February.

The farm at Kilmanagh is made up of 112ha of land, with 62 designated for the milking platform and around 20ha of the farm is leased. This year they keep an average of 200 dairy cows on the farm, with 192 the peak number milked.

He estimates they will sell 1.05m litres of milk at 4.26pc fat and 3.66pc protein this year, which works out at 428kg milk solids sold per cow. They are also on track to grow 13t of grass dry matter per hectare with the cows fed 700kg meal per head.

It is a British Friesian herd, with Holsteins used in recent years and an average EBI of €96.

Mr Purcell said there are a number of areas that help make the calving season more manageable including defined roles and facilities.

He pointed out his wife Miriam has an off-farm job and most of the roles are split between himself and Conor Gorey, a student on the full-time Professional Diploma in Dairy Farm Management course.

He has split out the milking between himself and Conor, as he looks after the calving and newborn work, including calf feeding, with Conor looking after stock feeding and grassland management.

He points out some of the measures installed on the farm are simple such as a cow drafting system and a mobile calf feeder but they significantly cut down the workload.

Teagasc’s Paidi Kelly pointed out that many of the measures being put to work on the Purcell farm such as the designated roles should be examined on all farms. He said many farmers could look at their processes for labour efficiencies before considering hiring.

The conference heard that this year dairy cow numbers in Ireland will average close to 1.4m, a 350,000 cow increase compared to 2010 levels.

Mr Kelly pointed out with the rapid expansion of the herd it is projected that over 6,000 people will need to enter dairying by 2025.

He pointed out dairy farmers need to ensure they become an employ of choice that offer a good place to work, with effective roster and communicate effectively.

Mr Purcell said they began getting their bull calves collected by Kilkenny Mart every Tuesday during the breeding season and this significantly cut down on their workload. He ensures all calves are iodined, tagged and teat fed with three litres of the dam’s colostrum.

In 2017, the calving interval was 365 days with 91pc calved in six weeks.

Other systems that they use on the farm are coloured tape as visual aids for milking, with a ‘red’ herd of recently calved and problem cows milked last. “It reduces the stress and the worry that mistakes will be made in parlour,” he said. A ‘blue’ tape is used for cows with some issues.

This year another measure that is being deployed is evening feeding of cows to try and ensure as few as possible calve at night. Mr Purcell said he looks after the night calvings and tries to take a rest during the day.

He pointed out that the first time he realised that he needed to employ someone on the farm was when he was sitting in the waiting room of the hospital in Kilkenny with a broken leg.

This is the fourth year that Mr Purcell has had a student from the Dairy Diploma course and he praised Conor and the course highly.

Mr Purcell said he ensures each student gets plenty of time off around Christmas before they head into the busy spring period.

Online Editors