- Date: 9 Jul 2010
- Venue: the Ballyheather home farm
The O’Neill family has connections with the farm stretching back over 200 years. Since the local creamery opened in Artigarvan some 108 year ago they have supplied milk there on a daily basis. The creamery is now owned by Town of Monaghan Co-op, having been part of the Leckpatrick co-op business. The family farms 160 acres on the Ballyheather home farm, 90 acres at Coolermoney and rents 100 acres which run onto hill land.
Dairy herd management
Wesley O’Neill provided a wealth of information about the dairy herd which comprises 190 Montebeliard cross Holstein cows yielding 8000 litres. Milk from forage is an impressive 3251 litres. The heifers and some cows are bred using sexed semen. Very good results have been obtained but the importance of good preparation and record keeping was stressed. Teaser bulls, marked with paint, are used to assist heat detection. The move to crossbred cows and the use of Aberdeen Angus sweeper bulls have increased the value of bull calves.
Farm Nutrient Management
Grassland management is treated with precision on this farm. There is a regular reseeding programme and pastures are notably weed free. The importance of the soil is recognised and spiking is used to prevent compaction. Over 350 tonnes of lime have been spread over the past two years to adjust soil pH. The farm is one of 12 participating in an AFBI Nutrient Management Project. Local CAFRE adviser, Trevor Alcorn, explained how detailed analysis of soil, manures and forage were being used to adjust applications of fertiliser nitrogen, phosphate, potash and sulphur.
The farm nutrient management scheme assisted with the construction of an above ground slurry store. Albert O’Neill explained that due to high rainfall in the area the store was covered and this also reduced volatilisation losses. A slurry separator was purchased in kit form from England and assembled on the farm. Solids are applied to arable ground and the separated liquid applied to grazing ground using a dribble bar. Raw slurry is applied to silage ground.
Innovation at work
The dribble bar has been designed and manufactured on the farm and a patent for the machine has been applied for. Weighing just over half a tonne it has a boom width of 8.6 metres which is fitted with a safety breakaway device. Because of the flexible piping which has been used it can even spread in reverse.
A dispenser for clover seed has been devised and attached to the slurry tanker. Albert is experimenting with the addition of clover seed to pasture using this technique. He is also participating in a CAFRE clover technology project.
Around the farm many innovative items were spotted. For example a tractor mounted gadget was devised and manufactured to clear silage from the 240 foot long feed trough in front of the cows. This had received an award from the Irish Farmers Journal and Farmers Weekly. By feeding excess silage and giving the surplus to other stock milk yield had been increased by about 100 litres per day. A mobile calf crate with large wheels attracted a lot of interest. A machine manufactured to grade the top surface of lanes is in demand from other farmers
After a delicious lunch the maize and alternative forages group looked at maize growing on the farm. Albert stressed the need to start preparing the ground one or two years in advance of sowing. He monitors soil temperature prior to planting and does not sown until soil reaches at least 8oC. Where possible, drilling is done East West to maximise sunlight availability for the growing crop. With costs amounting to £357/acre plus slurry costs maize is an expensive crop to grow so good yields are required. Albert achieved 19.5 tonnes fresh weight as fed from the silo last year.
Alan Holden from Holden Agriculture Ltd provided an outline on weed control in maize. He explained that residual herbicides had not been as effective as usual this year due to the dry conditions post planting. It was suggested that for best results with post emergence sprays maize should be allowed time to acclimatise after bursting out through the plastic.
UGS President, Dr John Orr, was delighted with the large turnout of UGS and Fermanagh Grassland Club members and those from Donegal who joined the visit.