Farm Ireland

Wednesday 17 January 2018

Father and son team milking 200 Holstein X Norwegian Reds in Westmeath

Eamonn Fagan Glasson, Co. Westmeath
Eamonn Fagan Glasson, Co. Westmeath

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Eamonn Fagan Glasson, Co. Westmeath farms with his son Padraig, near Glasson, outside Athlone in Co. Westmeath and spoke at this year’s Teagasc National Dairy Conference.

The Fagans have one full time employee and farm 120 ha of which the milking block is made up of 63 ha and the rest is used for replacement stock and silage.

They milk 200 spring calving cows in a 22 unit parlour (extended from 16 units in 2016 and also now includes cluster removers and cluster flush).

Cows are housed in cubicle sheds during the winter and there’s also a three hundred thousand gallon slurry lagoon.

Cross Breeding

The herd is crossbred, mainly Holstein X Norwegian Red. Kilograms of milk solids produced since 2012 have risen from 440 per cow to 480 last year.

Fat has increased from 4.30 to 4.44% and protein increased from 3.52 to 3.65% in the same period. About 800 kg of meal is fed annually.

Last spring the Fagans brought in 35 home bred three way crosses i.e. Hols X Norwegian red X Jersey.

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“I am very happy with these stock; 70% of them went in calf to 1st service this year. I got involved in crossbreeding back in 2004 as part of a Teagasc trial.

“I like the crossbred cow; she’s hardier and holds body condition better. These are important points as herds get bigger and they have further to walk.

“In our case the furthest paddock is 1.7km from the parlour,” Eamon said.

Bulls used this year were Maestro, Obsidian, Grand Theft Auto, EKE, on the cows and FR 2239 was used on the three way crosses. The EBI of the herd is €125 of which milk is €25 and fertility is €57. Calves born in 2015 and 2016 have EBI of €160 and €166 respectively.

Eamon Fagan with his Teagasc adviser
Eamon Fagan with his Teagasc adviser

Breeding Performance

  • Last year’s six week calving rate was 75%. In 2015 it was 72% and in 2014 it was 78%.
  • Median calving date for the last three years was 24/2/14, 25/2/15 and 22/2/16 for cows and 14/2/14, 18/2/15, and 15/2/16 for heifers.
  • Calving interval for 2014 was 369 days, for 2015 it was 372 days and 365 days for 2016.
  • Average number of calvings per cow stand at 3.5 for 2014, 3.6 for 2015 and 3.8 for 2016.

“Our empty rate this year is 10% in a 12.5 week breeding season; last year it was 7% in 14 weeks and 11% for 2014 in 17 weeks. Fertility sub-index is something I have been working on aggressively especially since genomically selected bulls became available.

“I am starting to see progress in my six week calving rate and calving interval due to this breeding strategy,” he said.

Grazing Performance

On the Fagans farm cows go to grass as they calve in February by day and go out by night when weather permits and there’s sufficient grass.

Tonnes per ha grown over the last three years are 11 tonnes, 12.5 tonnes and 13 tonnes.

“We usually don’t start measuring seriously until April. Up until then we are following the Spring Rotation Planner.

“We aim to finish grazing with a closing cover of about 600 kgDM/ha. The second round starts about the 4th April. Surplus grass is taken off as bales.

“Last summer we adjusted the size of paddocks to allow for three grazings. As cow numbers grew over the years the paddocks were too small and the cows were always under pressure,” he said.

 A new water system was also installed a few years ago, including bigger drinking troughs.

“We start the new grazing season with a half bag of urea in mid-February, followed by a bag in early March.

“Two bags of 18:6:12 is spread in the next round on paddocks that require P and K. Nitrogen containing sulphur is used for the next few rounds. The soil is light so sulphur is important. We now soil sample paddocks every two years,” Eamon said.

Monoculture Trials

The Fagans are involved in monoculture trials run by Teagasc on a number of farms through-out the country.

Varieties sown so far are Tyrella, Kintyre, Twymax and Abergain. This is a programme to help assess the properties of individual grasses and is an aid in ranking grass varieties on the new PPI index.

“It gives me access to the latest and best varieties of grass on the Department of Agriculture Recommended List.

“It is early days in this programme so far; but I have gained from trial work before and I’m sure there will be benefits to this programme over time,” he said.

On Farm Investment

The Fagans have extended the milking parlour to 22 units with cluster removers and cluster flush. A bigger bulk tank was also installed. This was done under the TAMS scheme.

“There are no more plans to expand as we are at our limit now stocked at 3.2 cows per hectare on the milking platform.

“We ran into problems with the ESB power when milking, cooling milk and heating water simultaneously and a CT meter has been installed and has improved things.

“The other decision I took at this juncture was to install a gas powered water heating system. This has reduced my overall energy costs and I’m told improved my carbon footprint,” Eamon said.

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