Expanding dairy farms
Many dairy farmers plan to expand their dairy enterprise over the next 10 years.
It is vital, therefore, that funds available for investment are directed to areas which can help to reduce the workload at peak times.
While investment in areas such as reseeding and field infrastructure will always make sense, other choices are not so clear cut.
Rather than buying machinery, for example, producers may be better off investing in calving and calf rearing facilities and leaving machinery jobs to contractors.
Liam Leahy and his brother, John, along with Liam’s wife, Mary, and their two sons, Bill and Dara, farm near Crookstown, Co Cork.
They currently milk 80 cows and rear all the replacements. This year the Leahys have 55 maiden heifers (EBI €160) and 60 calves.
Replacement stock sales are an important part of the Leahy’s dairy farm enterprise.
Over the last few years the family have carried out quite a lot of development and investment on their farm.
This included reseeding, field infrastructure, cow accommodation and slurry storage, silage pit upgrade and milk quota.
The farm has grown from 40 cows in 2002 to 110 in 2012. Investment in stock through AI has always been very important to the Leahy family and the current EBI of the herd is €120, which puts it in the top 10% of herds nationally.
“As stock numbers grew, we began to realise that we needed to invest in calving and calf-rearing facilities,” said Liam.
Last autumn Liam and his fellow discussion group members travelled to dairy farms in north Cork to assess how farmers in this area dealt with handling large numbers of cows, calving and calf rearing facilities.
These farms had been through several years of growth.
“As a result of the trip we realised that things had to change on our farms,” said Liam.
‘‘Calving facilities were simply inadequate. We didn’t have enough calving boxes on our farm.”
There were just two, and a loose straw area which acted as a ‘maternity ward’.
This area had to be cleaned out by hand.
Calf rearing facilities were also antiquated.
These facilities were in an old, converted stone-built cow byre and while they needed to be cleaned out regularly, this also had to be done manually.
Having consulted with family, Teagasc adviser Seamus Lordan, and some discussion group members, a plan was drawn up to build a new shed to accommodate both calving and calf rearing facilities.
In designing these facilities, their objective was to:
* Knit-in any new structure with the existing shed.
* Have spacious pens that were easily cleaned.
* Allow easy access to pasture for calves.
* Enhance calf health by having larger pens and better ventilation.
Their initial priority was to erect the four-bay shed and then assess the plan ‘on the ground’ to maximise the efficiency of the building.
After examining all the options for the internal design, they decided to have four calving boxes on one side and all five calf pens on the opposite side, adjacent to the existing shed.
This enabled them to keep all the calves on one side.
“Our feeling was to have longer and narrower pens so as to keep the straw bedding to the rear of the pen while feeding the animals at the front,” said Liam.
“This would ensure that the calf bed didn’t get soiled as quickly.”