FarmIreland Instagram Takeover: Irish milking 700 cows in New Zealand

Hannah Irish landed in New Zealand in July to milk over 700 cows. Today, the third-year Dairy Business Student is taking over the FarmIreland Instagram account.

I arrived in New Zealand at the start of July which was spring time over here. The farm I am working on has 766 cows, with over 330 hectares split up between 220 hectares on the dairy platform and 110 hectares of a winter grazing block which is located on the farm.

We have two herds of 385 with each herd having their own specific feed plan and grazing platform. The farm is owned by Warren and Suzanne Harris, former sheep farmers who converted to Dairy back in 2008 during the dairy boom in Canterbury.

Tracey is the farm manager who is from a dairy farm back in Ireland in Co. Derry. Tracey and Harry Whitwell have recently become equity partners on the farm. We also have two Taiwanese workers, Kyan and Latte, who play a big role in the everyday running of the farm.

Visit the FarmIreland Instagram account to see her updates here

When I first arrived, the heifers had only begun calving and cows were still on kale, straw and silage. It was a big change from my 90 cows at home. My first couple of weeks were made up of milking the cows in the morning, feeding out, changing fences, collecting  cows and calves from the fields and finally, go milking in the afternoon.

Calving Season

Calving this year went extremely well mainly due to the weather and careful management by Tracey. Our 6-week calving rate was 80pc which we were delighted with and by week 9, we had over 94pc of the cows calved. We calved down over 220 heifers, something my father couldn’t get over. I was amazed at the temperament of the cows and heifers.

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There was no kicking and barely any holding of tails. One thing I thought was really impressive was they had a coloured tape allocation to cows tails. We had a diary in the office which showed us what colour tape to put on newly calved cows.

Each day also,  was a test date colour which corresponded to cows who had calved four days previous. Each cow would undergo a California milk test and then transferred to the  milking herd if the test was clear. This made it so much easier for all the staff.

Everyone knew what to do and that’s something they excel at on the farm, organisation and planning of their staff. 

Yields and Feeds

We have already hit our milk peak which was just over 23,000 litres a day with each cow producing on average 2.22kgMS/ day.

This year we decided to buy pellets instead of feeding rolled barely, this was to combat the inconsistency of the quality of barley. We are feeding 2.5kgs of pellets a day and the cows are also getting minerals in their dosatron.

The dosatron slowly releases minerals and additives into the water system on the farm. Currently we are adding 50kg of mag, 450ml of Iodine (to increase activity in the cycling cows), 2.5L of bloat oil, 16L of bio brew (for healthier digestion) and 1.5kg of a special mineral blend. 

The average cover on the farm is 2,450 with a variable growth rate of 85kg. We did lot of pre-mowing on one of the herds grazing platform which has pulled their growth rate back to 66kg a day.  We have pulled 12 hectares off the grazing platform to go into kale for wintering. 

To date

At the moment we are in the middle of mating season, we are at day 31 with over 90pc  of cows inseminated.

This year’s plan was to target the larger Friesian cows in the herd with Jersey semen in an attempt to introduce more of a crossbred cow to improve fertility, feet and milk solids. Even this mating season I did reports on the non-cycling cows, at day 25 and you could see the strong correlation with high yielding cows and lack of cycling activity.

Before mating season started, Tracey went through every cow in the herd and choose an AI bull to suit the dam. Altogether we had 10 bulls to choose from. Breeds varied from easy calving Friesians to high producing jerseys and also some Hereford beef straws.

The plan is to try and have a compact calving season for next year  which we are currently using our last 150 straws of a short gestation Friesian to try and pull the later cows a few days earlier. 

Pre-conceived ideas about New Zealand

When I first arrived, I had a lot of pre-conceived ideas about what goes on a dairy farms over here from people talking about their experiences.

I have learned a lot in the last couple of weeks that have changed my view on Dairy farming in New Zealand.

On my farm they care about animal health, calf wellbeing and even the environment. A lot of Irish young farmers have very negative look on New Zealand when there are not looking at the bigger picture. Ok, there is a lot of farms doing it right over here and a lot of farms doing things wrong but can we seriously say in Ireland every farm is amazing.

I know it’s a totally different system over here and that does not mean that I’m going to run back to Kilkenny and cull our Friesians for a full herd of Jerseys, but I do see their value. They suit what New Zealand are doing and they suit some farmers in Ireland, I think it’s really funny to see some farmers in Ireland would rather have the biggest Holsteins on the softest of ground pumping in two tonne of concentrates per year and make no money than see a Jersey walk onto the farm.

You can’t judge a book by a cover so why is some Irish person judging New Zealand farms just based on hearsay. Come out and see it for yourself, see the good and the bad and try to take something from it.

Advise to Irish Farmers on Spring

So, hopefully spring in Ireland will be better than last year, it seems a lot of people are worried about how it will go. The three main things I would say to farmers at home to look at is labour, management and feed.

There’s is no point in being in the middle of calving season being severally under staffed and under pressure. We should have learned our lesson from last year, by linking with the FRS to help relieve some of the pressure, and thereby ensuring both the physical and mental health of farmers is given a greater emphasis.

Management is something critical to successful farming, having plans in place makes farms run much more smoothly and makes the most of your labour. Allocate a feed plan in advance, look at how much silage you will need for winter as there is no point in having ten bales left in the yard and then panicking. 

Online Editors

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