RUNNING a 270 cow herd in addition to a partnership in an agricultural con-tracting business requires planning, efficiency and a lot of attention to animal welfare and performance.
Randal Livingston and his son Jack farm near Caledon in County Armagh, managing a 270 cow dairy herd, rearing heifer replacements and finishing calves to beef. In addition, Randal is involved in the agricultural contracting business WA Livingston and Sons, in partnership with his brother Stanley, as well as together keeping 100,000 broiler birds for Moy Park.
Commenting on the growth of the dairy business, Randal said: “To enable us to have time for both businesses and to ensure that both are profitable, we have to continually be on the lookout for strategies which will make each business more efficient. Regarding the dairy herd, we have concentrated on milk yield and quality, pregnancy rate, genetic improvement, animal welfare and business planning.”
Randal went on to explain that over the past five years the herd has increased by almost 100 cows to 270 head. One of the major changes in the herd was the introduction of AI rather than the use of bull breeding. This was further developed in 2015 by the introduction of the RMS system whereby a technician visits the farm 364 days per year and identifies cows in heat, inseminates them and keeps a daily record of all herd activity.
Randal emphasises: “I was really sceptical of this service when I first heard of it and I can understand now when I hear farmers say that it is far too costly. Because we are so busy with both businesses we needed some help with herd fertility and decided to give RMS a go regardless.
“You really could not appreciate the value of this service until you have experienced it in the herd. Because the technician is carrying out this work on a daily basis on a number of farms he/she becomes really efficient in their AI techniques and identifying cows in heat, in addition to noting various aspects of cow behaviour which are all documented at the daily visit. It is an aspect of the business that you know is in capable hands and you can then concentrate on other items.”
He added: “When I look back at the time when we were using bull breeding and the expense of their feeding, ensuring their welfare and ensuring the safety of those working with them, the cost of RMS is certainly justified. We have been using the system since 2015 and the herd has a current 21 day pregnancy rate of 20 per cent using a full Sexcel with beef strategy.”
The Sexcel and beef strategy involves using sexed semen on all maiden heifers and the majority of first lactation cows. The remainder of the herd is then served with easy calving British Blue semen. This system has two major advantages – high performing heifer herd replacements plus beef calves with high growth rates and excellent finish. The herd has an average yield of 10,000 litres at 4.13 per cent butterfat and 3.30 protein.
James Woods, Strategic Account Manager with Genus ABS in Northern Ireland, added: “This 21 day pregnancy rate of 20 per cent compares with a Northern Ireland average figure of 14 per cent.
“The final aspect of the service from Genus is the analysis of the detailed herd results which the service provides. This enables us to help farmers identify the strengths and weaknesses in the dairy enterprise and to assist with future planning. This can also involve the farmer’s vet, feed adviser, etc, so that all aspects of the enterprise are considered.