The View from Northern Ireland: Winter feeding and the efficiency with which a winter feed programme is managed has a major impact on the cost of milk production and the profitability of any dairy enterprise.

A well-attended winter feeding short course organised by College of Agriculture Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE) was held recently on the farm of Seamus and Gerard Quinn in Ardboe, Co Tyrone. The Quinn’s milk 210 pedigree Holstein cows with all calves reared either as replacements for the dairy herd or finished as beef. The aim is to make maximum use of grass and silage in the diet. Approximately 50 acres of the farm has been reseeded in the last two years. On the day Alan Hopps, CAFRE Senior Dairy Development Adviser explained the importance of accurate silage analysis, its use in ration formulation, silage pit management to minimise wastage and steps that could be taken to improve silage quality in the future.

Benchmarking results at Quinn’s show a milk yield approaching 9000 litres per cow per year. The milking herd is split into two batches and fed a Total Mixed Ration (TMR) through the feeder wagon, topped up through the parlour if needed on a feed-to-yield basis at a rate of 0.45kg concentrate per litre of milk. The high yielding batch of cows are fed a base diet for maintenance plus 30 litres of milk. The lower yielding batch of cows are fed through the wagon for maintenance plus 10 litres of milk. The TMR consists of a 26 per cent protein blend, rolled barley, soya hulls, straw and silage plus brewers grains. The aim is to feed efficiently while keeping feeding and management as simple as possible. Grouping cows according to yield and stage of lactation is critical for maximum feed efficiency.

A new Dairy Master 24:48 milking parlour was installed two years ago that facilitates auto-ID, milk yield recording and feeding-to-yield. Seamus Quinn along with Gavin Duffy, CAFRE Dairy Development Adviser detailed how the dairy herd was fed and managed with particular emphasis on principles of efficient winter milk production.

Dry cow feeding has an important role to play not only in terms of efficient milk production but also in the health and fertility of the cow in the subsequent lactation. The Quinns’ manage their dry cows in two batches – a far off group which are fed silage plus straw and minerals and a close up group (within two weeks of calving) which are fed a proportion of the milking cow TMR plus straw, dry cow minerals and magnesium chloride flakes. Colin McKee, nutritionist with Hutchinson’s Feeds outlined the practicalities of dry cow nutrition. He encouraged farmers to consider more carefully the type of silage fed to this group of cows and suggested that low potassium, more mature grass silage would help to reduce the incidence of milk fever after calving. He also summarised the latest research regarding protein in the diet of dairy cows.

The farmers present were given details of assistance available from CAFRE Dairy Advisers to monitor their dairy herd performance such as monthly recording and financial benchmarking.

Pictured: Gavin Duffy, CAFRE Dairy Development Adviser, Dungannon; Colin McKee, Hutchinson’s Feeds Nutritionist; host farmers Eamon and Eoin Quinn and Shane Duffy, a local dairy farmer

By Gavin Duffy, CAFRE Dairy Development Adviser, Dungannon