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Saturday 23 March 2019

Peter Hynes: Spending on straw and minerals has paid dividends this calving season

Peter and Paula Hynes on the family farm in Aherla, Co Cork. Photo: Claire Keogh
Peter and Paula Hynes on the family farm in Aherla, Co Cork. Photo: Claire Keogh
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Peter Hynes

It's hard to believe we are well into March already. With 80pc of the cows calved, all we need is plenty more dry weather to keep the workload down.

I don't think I've seen such a fine February - the cows were out 24 hours a day grazing, bar three nights when they were on three-hour breaks. That fine weather gave us a chance to get 50pc of the farm spread with slurry and we have 70 units of nitrogen spread.

It's the tightest calving season we've had yet and it makes a big impact on milk production with collections up 45pc consistently on 2018.

Cows are producing 1.95kg milk solids at 4.50pc fat and 3.51pc protein on 4kg of 16pc dairy nut so it looks like they'll peak well considering we still have a young herd.

Global dairy markets look positive for the foreseeable future so we should do okay on milk price in 2019.

One of my favourite parts of calving is seeing new life and new genetics arrive. We have a keystone contact with the National Cattle Breeding Centre. This means we use the G1 bulls on the herd and we take this a step further using those bulls on our maiden heifers, too. We have been doing this for a few years to maximise genetic gain.

However, we do put a lot of background research into the calving difficulty record of the parentage. We've had no issues calving the heifers again this year.

Seeing the progeny of these elite bulls hit the ground is always exciting.

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The stand-out bull from the team we selected in 2018 has to be Albert FR4513.

He's a stand-out bull on paper, but what excites me about him is his calves have hit the ground 14-20 days before their due date and are still good solid calves.

Time will tell how well they turn out, but we've used the likes of HZB, LWR and Ronaldo as first-season sires - and they've certainly proven their worth. All we have left to calve now are cows in-calf to Hereford AI and our stock bull.

Doing the simple things right seems to have paid dividends this year.

Minerals system

We installed the Terra minerals system in 2018 and we haven't had one cow hold a cleaning, which will set things up nicely for the breeding season.

We had one cow with a hint of milk fever but she is a known candidate. We were lucky to get our hands on plenty of good quality straw which enabled us to keep the calving pens clean and disinfected throughout.

We were cleaning out to the ground every three or four days which kept everything healthy and we've moved the bull and beef calves off the farm at 14 days to try and keep numbers to a minimum.

Our vet has only been on farm once so the extra cost on minerals and straw is well justified.

Thankfully, we've had a great run on heifer calves, but we've had to organise another shed for them as we can't fit them all on the computerised feeder. That's something that will need a bit of rethinking before 2020.

For now, we are genotyping all the heifer calves so that when they are all weaned, we can make a decision on what we keep and which heifers we sell.

If spring wasn't busy enough, we have also been involved in setting up RearingToGo, a mental health awareness campaign for the ag sector. We ran a charity calf auction in Corrin Mart on March 2, with all proceeds going to Teac Tom. We were extremely grateful for all the support we received from the farming community countywide.

The lasting memory of the auction for me, though, has to be the new friends we made.

Meanwhile, back on the farm, we have Alexandra from UCD veterinary college on the farm this week to experience spring calving. On that note, I'll finish as there is lots to show her so she will make the most of her week.

Peter Hynes farms with his wife Paula in Aherla, Co Cork

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