Peter Hynes: 'The question still remains unanswered as to how we will deal with dairy bull calves in Ireland next spring'

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

While you're reading this I'm basking in 30 degrees of glorious sunshine on a well earned holiday with the family.

Nothing beats a bit of down time and kayaking in crystal clear waters and walking with warm sand under the feet.

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It's a change from the usual hectic schedule and with a packed diary when we return home, this week will certainly be enjoyed.

They say fortune favours the brave. Well we weren't sure if we were mad or brave last week but we took a chance on mowing third cut silage and thankfully it paid of with perfect conditions.

It was a quality crop which will be earmarked for the weanling heifers next winter.

Like I said the diary is always packed here.

I have a presentation to make at a conference in NUI Cork at the end of August and we're organising the RearingToGo conference/ workshop on mental health in agriculture which is being held in Shrewsbury on September 13.

I've also been lucky enough to be asked to speak at the Semex International Dairy conference in Glasgow next January.

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Now in it's 30th year with the theme 'Be Extraordinary', it's a real honour to address such an audience and to get the opportunity to hear a packed list of inspirational speakers.

In July, we launched the UK RearingToGo event - 1200kms and two ferry crossings in 30 hours was a challenge in itself, made all the more worthwhile as we caught up great friends Steven Pass and family, Becki Leach from Kite Consultancy and Helen Rutter.

Part of our trip included a stop at Halton Farms in Cheshire.

Tom and Karen Halton won the Cheshire Farm Competition in 2019 and were hosting a fantastic farm walk the evening we visited.

Given that we run a low input system at home, it was going to be an eye-opener to tour this 530 cow, high input, 560ac farm.

Cow type is a three-way cross of Holstein/Montbeliarde/ Swiss Red and while the herd is averaging 11,500 litres per cow at 3.87pc fat 3.29pc protein, it's clear to see the Haltons' breeding program was paying off with cows in super order and more importantly achieving a calving interval of 364 days.

The average milk price for 2018 was 28.44p.

Our first port of call as we walked through the yard was the calf rearing facilities.

At first glance the calves looked in top order so the calf management had to be superb with mortality rates below 1pc.

All the male calves receive top class management and are later sold on to beef farms for future finishing.

Bull calves are not a by-product on this dairy farm. In the words of Tom Halton: "A cow has never produced milk without first producing a calf" and it was clear they focus on animal welfare from birth right through.

Calf exports

The question still remains unanswered as to how we will deal with bull calves in Ireland next spring with our beef industry on its knees and calf exports not being mentioned since April.

Luckily, we have all next spring's bull and beef calves forward sold for 2020.

Moving on through the Halton's yard, the sight of a 22cu diet feeder highlighted the pride this farm carries and it was painted in black and white cow colours with the farm's logo attached.

Animal welfare was top of the list at the Dairymaster milking parlour with big fans keeping cows cool while the queued for milking.

The Haltons have installed a milk shack vending machine where they sell raw pastuerised milk direct to the consumer averaging 60 litres a day at £1.20.

This in itself was an advert for this farm, but more importantly our dairy industry. Direct selling is something that is growing in popularity in the UK and worth looking into here as it's a great way to connect with the consumer.

As impressed as we were walking through the farm yard, I thought there might be one weakness somewhere, maybe grassland management?

How wrong I was. Walking through paddocks it was clear to see they could manage grass.

The low yielding group averages 120 cow grazes for 180 days and there is plenty of surplus bales coming off the grazing platform with top quality swards.

The only hole that was left for me to pick at was that they should have baled the car park paddock.

Tom himself admitted that and in fairness they had growth rates of over 100kg/dm/ha .

All that was left was time to enjoy a quality burger, a few drinks and a fantastic chat with local farmers.

From start to finish it was clear to see why Halton Farms won the competition and were in the top six of the UK Dairy Gold Cup for 2019.

The dairy industry needs a lot more Karen and Tom Haltons to showcase the best of dairying.

The message for me leaving Cheshire was that it's not about the dairy system individuals choose; it's about top class management, top class animal husbandry and animal welfare standards that are second to none.

On that note I'll say adios and return to my sunshine and cocktails.

Indo Farming

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