- Date: 4 May 2023
- Venue: Dungiven
The Ulster Grassland Society’s held its Spring Meeting on the Buchanan family farm, Straw Road, Dungiven, on Thursday 4th May when over 100 members and friends joined Society President David Linton on a tour led by Ian Buchanan.
The family moved their dairy enterprise to a ‘green field’ site in 2012 as they were unable to expand their 80 dairy cow unit on the home farm, some seven miles away. The farm is situated at 260 feet above sea level and generally receives around 47 inches of rain annually.
The present unit consists of 280 cross-bred cows (Holstein x VikingReds) on 160 acres, producing 7700 litres/cow, BF 4.2% and Protein 3.3% on 2.4 tonnes concentrates. Approximately 3000 litres of milk come grass.
Ian explained that cows calve from mid-October to the first week in March. They also run a large sheep flock so need the cows to finish calving before lambing commences in April. Heat detection is helped with the aid of collars and cows in heat are identified and are automatically separated by a shedding gate on exiting the parlour. The top 50% of cows are mated with sexed semen and 8 weeks after breeding commences cows are only served using Aberdeen Angus, although last year some Wagyu semen was used, with 50 calves born and reared. AI stops when cows go to grass and beef bulls are put into the herd to ‘sweep-up’.
Turnout of the dairy herd is as early as possible in the Spring and the aim is to graze for 180 days. At grass the herd is grazed in one group. Roadways to fields have astroturf laid down to help prevent lameness in cows.
All calves born on the farm are reared with approximately 70-75 dairy heifers reared as replacements to calve down at 24 months of age. Beef animals are sold as stores.
Cows begin to dry-off at the end of August when they are housed and moved onto a controlled silage diet in the run up to calving. All cows are normally housed before the end of September. Groups of dry and cows at different stages of lactation are separated in the well designed farm building. Once cows calve they are moved into a high yielding group and fed high quality silage supplemented with 0.45kg of concentrate/litre of milk fed through the parlour.
Silage is made in a 3-cut system, each cut been taken from 180 acres by a contractor. The first cut is normally taken in mid-May (as well as some bales early in the season). A separate cut of stemmier grass is cut specifically for dry cows.
Reseeding is carried out every year using min-till methods. Ian explained that they burn off the old sward and then stitch in the grass seed although in more open swards stitching takes place directly into the old sward. He explained that dry ewes are used to keep the older grasses and weeds under control until the new grasses are established. Clover and plantains have also been stitched in with clovers being more successful. However, Ian said some Nitrogen fertiliser is still required early in the season. The pH status of the ground is maintained through the application of 100-200 tonnes of lime each year with fields being on a 4-year rotation.
Contractors are used for silage making and for abut 50% of slurry application.
The visit ended with a Barbeque lunch which was enjoyed by all.