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Our three Dairy Discussion Groups had a day trip to two dairy farms involved in the Northern Ireland Focus Farm Programme.  The two farms were in the Omagh area of Co Tyrone.  The farms chosen are relevant because they are operating in weather and soil conditions broadly similar to Donegal. The Focus Farm Programme aims to demonstrate good farming practice, modern technology, innovative farm methods and on-farm research through farm walks, discussion and follow-up mentoring.  Visitors have a choice of 55 Focus Farms, located across Northern Ireland covering the following enterprise sectors:
  • Arable
  • Beef
  • Sheep
  • Dairy
  • Horticulture
  • Organic
  • Pigs
  • Diversification
  • Environmental
  • Renewable Energy Crops
For more information on the Focus Farm Programme, click on the link below   Drew McConnell The first farm visited was to Drew McConnell, 1 Carrigans Park, Omagh.  Drew took over the family farm in 1993 and is the third generation to farm at Carrigans.  The farm was part of the previous Focus Farm scheme and has been involved with the Premium Milk Project, Greenmount and the Heifer Rearing Solution Project with Thompsons and AFBI.  Within the current Focus Farm Scheme, Drew is concentrating on improving milk compositional quality, dry cow management and heifer rearing. Drew owns 190 acres and rents another 120 acres, he owns over 1 million litres of quota and keeps 150 cows with 80 replacements and 25 suckler cows as well as 120 ewes and beef cattle.  His farm is between 350ft to 700ft above sea level and it receives over 50 inches of rainfall annually.  Soil type is heavy clay and is all classified as disadvantaged. Drew’s’ objectives are:
  • To maximise profit per acre
  • To improve cow comfort and welfare
  • To have a labour efficient working environment
  • To continue farming in a manner which gives satisfaction and enjoyment within the constraints of farm resources
Performance in July 2011 saw 147 cows milking giving a rolling herd average of 9493l/cow at 4.24% fat and 3.38% protein feeding 2.8t meal/cow and a calving interval of 396 days. Milking cows are fed to yield both in-parlour feeders and out-of-parlour feeders.  Low yielders receive 1-8kg in parlour while high yielders receive 8kg in parlour with a further 2-12kg out-of-parlour. Winter housing consists of 143 Dutch cubicles with mats.  Dry cows are fed through out of parlour feeders to calve down in correct body condition.  The aim is to calve heifers at 24 months and to produce durable cows with longevity and lifetime yields of over 40,000 litres. Projected 305 day yield for heifers is 8264 litres, 9518 litres for 2nd calvers, 10517 litres for 3rd calvers, 10253 litres in later lactations making for a herd average of 9529 litres.  Targets for heifers include; weaning at 7 weeks with one bag of milk replacer consumed and eating 2-3kg concentrates, bulling at 13.5-15 months at around 350-370kg and calving at 24 months at 540-580kg. Current projects on going at Carrigans are a dry cow trial with AFBI at Hillsborough, a Feeding trial with Thompsons, Performance Recorded Rams and Taste Testing Trials with Dunbia.   Reggie Alcorn Thesecond farm belonged to Reggie Alcorn at 15 Laurelbank Road, Ballynahatty outside Omagh.  Reggie farms 110.3ha in total, owning 98.2ha with 12.1ha rented as conacre.  Land type is heavy soil with underlying Old Red Sandstone receiving approx. 54inches of rain annually.  He says his key objectives are to:
  1. Produce milk effectively
  2. To breed durable dairy cows producing 8500l/cow/year
  3. To improve cow comfort and welfare
  4. To have a labour efficient working environment
In August 2009 a new 32/32 Westfalia herringbone parlour was installed and he is currently developing the dairy and handling areas.  A new slurry store and midden were built in 2007 and a new laneway to provide better access to the grazing area was made in June 2009 so there has been a lot of infrastructure put in place in the recent past. Herd performance to the end of March 2011 stood at 8,103l/cow at 3.83% fat and 3.23% protein.  Meal fed per cow was 2.67t and milk from forage was 2,156l/cow.  Milk produced per labour unit was 959,710l with 202 cows on the farm making it out to be 1.7 labour units to run the farm. The feeding regime in winter is based around feeding high quality silage and meal.  Silage is cut in early May and early July with a precision chop harvester.  Silage test results are consistent with first and second cut remarkably similar at a pH of 3.8, protein at 15/16%, ME at 1 point either side of 11.7 and Dry Mater (DM) between 24 and 28%.  It is fed through a diet feeder based at maintenance plus 20l of milk, higher yielding cows are topped up accordingly through the parlour. Winter housing consists of 200 cubicles with mats.  Dry cows are housed separately and grouped and fed according to condition score.  Their diet is second cut silage ad-lib and 2kg straw, 2 weeks before due to calve they are switched on to the milking cow diet to ease the change after calving. In summer, turnout occurs as early as possible.  Cows are strip grazed with fresh grass allocated twice a day.  Cows are fed a 16% nut according to yield and also receive minerals.  The roadways facilitate great access to paddocks.  Topping starts early and docks are sprayed as necessary.  8ha are reseeded annually with intermediate and late perennial ryegrass. Breeding is done by DIY AI and Aberdeen Angus stock bulls, the calving season mainly from August to March.  Bulls are selected on type, merit, milk yield and composition.  Bulls used include Shuttle, Bolton, Gillette Jordan and Gerald.  Replacements are home bred and are calved at 2 years old to easy calving sires such as Buckeye and Bolvia. Reggie also has one eye on the landscape and has planted hedges and trees to help screen farm buildings and minimise the impact on the landscape. To view photos of the tour, click on the link below.

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