Agriland visited the Hollybank Farm in Co. Antrim where David Cargill and his father Stephen are maximising efficiency while milking 180 pedigree holstein friesian cows on a 400ac platform.

The cows are averaging over 11,500L at 4.2% butterfat and 3.2% protein with a somatic cell count of 130,000.

David and Stephen are milking three times a day all year-round, with cows calving in the autumn and spring.

Stephen graduated from Greenmount college in the early 1980s and started milking 40 pedigree holstein friesian cows.

When Stephen’s son, David finished his engineering training, they both wanted to apply their respective knowledge to milk cows in a modern way – to reduce labour and to streamline processes.

“We wanted to combine my farming mind with his [David’s] engineering mind to cut activities and be more efficient,” Stephen said.

In 2013, they bought the farm they are on today and purchased young heifer calves to begin with.

The same year, they converted to a dairy unit by buying a new parlour, investing in silage clamps and installing new sheds.

The cubicle side of the calf shed

Everything that was installed was planned for the future, with every shed having multi-purposes, plenty of access and room to extend onto if needs be.

The calf house that was put in was admittedly very extensive but could potentially have a future for fattening beef stock.

The calf shed has great airflow and the roof was made using polycarbonate transparent sheeting, which allows for plenty of light.

Older calves will be put onto the cubicle side of the calf shed. The farmyard was designed for easy access, easy cow flow, and allows for efficient run-off.

Optimal efficiency

Stephen spoke how about how sustainability is a main focus on the farm, by having low labour requirements, improved animal health and optimal fertility to produce high quality replacements.

Being as self-sufficient as possible is a key element to this sustainability . The Cargills claim that “by putting in a bit of effort, you will get your reward”.

The Cargills are adding to this sustainability by soil testing their ground to understand the nutrients required for each paddock, to do out a fertiliser plan, and use their fertiliser efficiently.

The father and son are currently milking in an 18-unit, swing-over parlour, but are in the process of putting in four new Lely Astronaut A5 automated milking machines.

The Cargills will receive the 50,000 astronaut A5 sold by Lely. Stephen said that they are “humbled to receive the machine, as a lot of work and thought has gone into it”.

The new machines will help with efficiency on the farm and reduce labour on the farm as they need two people to milk, three time a day in the current situation.

The Cargills emphasised that everything they do is forward thinking, as they want to be milking cows for generations to come.

“Everything is done for the long run, every bit of steel in the yard is galvanised,” Stephen said.

They try to keep the meal and fertiliser man out of the yard as much as possible through meeting energy intakes with grass silage, maize and whole crop.

They have also installed a 100KV solar panel system which has paid itself off in seven years and is maximising their energy efficiency.

They also grow their own maize and whole crop on the farm and any grass reseeds are incorporated with clover, even though they find it difficult to keep in their swards.

They grow a Sandinavian variety of maize and grow about 14 to 15t/ac, which is a good result on their farm, considering they are 600ft above sea level, and it struggles to excel on their ground, according to David.

Streamlining nutrition

The calves receive precision microbes from a young age as a healthy microbiome ensures that digestive function and immune function are working optimally.

Calves are on automatic calf feeders, so they receive six litres of powdered milk a day and are weaned off the system gradually at 10-weeks-of-age and are provided with an 18% protein nut.

The calves are on a vaccination programme, receiving a vaccine for IBR, BVD, Leptospirosis, salmonella and RSV.

The automatic calf feeders in the calf shed

The Lely Vector and kitchen was incorporated into the farm in 2018 and of the 400 head of cattle on the farm, it feeds 360 of them. This includes 180 milking cows, fattening cattle, heifers and breeding bulls.

The vector helps with forage intake and feed conversion rates as they are able to feed the cows 26kg DM/ha, while cutting out three labour units as they feeding night and day with forage feeders beforehand.

Stephen claims that the cows have went up 2L/day due to its accuracy and consistency, as every mix it does is the same.

The diets are set on the Lely app through their horizon system, making it easy to track what the cows are eating.

The Lely vector feeding the cows

David expressed how his cows thrive on high DM and metabolisable energy diets as they feed silage, alfalfa, maize, whole crop, straw, wheat, soya and rape seed.

Due to consistency in diet, and high quality feed in the cow’s diet, they have had no cases of milk fever for a number of years.