See inside Gurteen's pedigree dairy farm that plans to expand to 240 cows

Catherine Hurley

Catherine Hurley

Currently milking 180 cows, the Gurteen pedigree Holstein Friesian herd has plans to increase herd size to 240 cows, using all home-bred replacement heifers.

“We could have the herd increased to 240 within a year, but we have stuck with our culling programme of culling cows with poor fertility and below average milk statistics,” Gurteen Farm Manager, Ken Flynn said.

“We’ll be able to milk 250 cows comfortably, stocking roughly a cow to the acre. After this, we’ll assess the grass situation and see if we have space for any more,” explained the college principal, Mike Pearson.

The pedigree herd is currently producing on average 510kg of milk solids per cow. Herd EBI is €115 and SCC is on average 140,000 throughout the year.  Last year, 950kg of meal was allocated per cow, although this has climbed considerably this year, Ken plans to reduce this in the coming years.

For the first six weeks of the breeding season, cows are put in calf using AI to breed future replacement heifers. After this, a Limousin stock bull is used on the dairy herd to breed replacements for the suckler herd, and then an Angus bull is used to clean up for the remaining three weeks of the breeding season.

“Heifers are synchronised and have one round of AI before they’re let running with the Angus bull for six weeks,” explained Ken.

Ken said the Tipperary herd will aim to improve fertility and increase solids through breeding. As well as this, Ken will breed for a smaller stature cow compared what was traditionally bred in Gurteen.

Family Farm Lessons

Mike said he wants to teach students lessons that they can bring back to the family farm. The agricultural college, is breeding for a high EBI, black and white herd, and will not be cross-breeding in the future.

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“We teach students using a high EBI herd. We’re breeding better and better black and white cows,” Mike said. The principal expects to produce 1.3m litres of milk, all supplied to Arrabawn.

The cows walk 900m to the furthest grazing paddock. Two thirds of the paddocks are on the parlour’s side of the road, the remaining is on the other.

“Road ways are being improved every year. A couple are a little rough for the cows, so that’s something we’ll be working on in the future,” said Ken.

Farm Facilities

Gurteen recently upgraded the facilities on its dairy farm, costing €900,000, including a new 30-unit DeLaval parlour and a 260-cubicle shed, that is yet to be installed.

The cubicle shed currently stands at 140 units, expanding to house 260 cows in the coming months. The housing shed is not hemmed in by any other building, so it can be further increased in size if needs be in the future.

Operating since September 4, the herring-bone parlour comes with all the ‘bells and whistles’, which can all be turned off for learning purposes.

“We can now teach three or four students at a time in the parlour,” the Principal of the college, Mike Pearson said.

Farm Manger Ken also said that the new parlour has more than halved milking times and is a lot more comfortable for staff to work in.

“We put down good quality mats in the pit and it makes a huge difference, workers are far more comfortable,” explained Ken.

“We’ll be working with DeLaval over the next few weeks and soon be able to make full use of all the equipment in our parlour. Having such a level of information available at our finger tips will be great, especially when we’re so open [to the public] with our herd performance,” said Ken.

“Cow flow is great, cows were flying into the parlour after three or four days,” he said.

“Show what can be possible for our students if they want to go home farming after college,” he said. “We might sell it to a student looking into starting a dairy farm at home, the bulk tank is relatively new as well,” Mike said.

He explained that larger herds, is where he thinks the future of farming is heading, that new entrants don’t want to be working 24/7, and that farms need 120 cows to justify the extra labour.

“Herds are expanding, and farms are generally getting bigger. Younger generations don’t want be working every weekend, but they need to go up in numbers to justify more labour,” he said.

“We’ve set-up the parlour to be easily run by two people, with the exception of extra labour at calving time,” explained Mike.

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