A large crowd of Ulster Grassland Society members and friends from across Northern Ireland attended the recent Winter Meeting at Blakiston Houston Estates.
Despite the early inclement weather, visitors to Reynolds Farm, near Dundonald, were greeted with breaking sunshine and hearty winds on this exposed farm overlooking Belfast.
After a warming cup of coffee and introduction from UGS President Jim Freeburn, visitors were welcomed by company director Jack Blakiston Houston whose family have farming enterprises at Dundonald, Ballywalter and Gortin with additional farm and business consultancy interests along with estate management.
The company owns 800 acres at Dundonald ranging in altitude from 200ft to 600ft above sea level with the farm supporting 310 dairy cows plus followers and around 150 acres of cropping including 40 acres forage maize. In 2012 a 500kW anaerobic digester was established and this is integrated into farming practice with energy crops and farm manures used in the AD plant which also produces digestate to use as fertiliser.
The tour of the farm was then led by Ivor Lowry (Farm Manager), Ian McAteer (Herd Manager) and Scott Hamilton (Assistant Herd Manager) during which visitors had the chance to see and discuss dairy cow management, dry cow management, calf rearing and slurry separation and note the environmental features and recent technology developments.
The Holstein dairy herd calves between September and February with the target being to have 250 cows calved by Christmas. Cows are milked through a 24/48 Dairymaster milking parlour which was incorporated into a new dairy unit built in 2004. Close attention is paid to calving and transition cow management with calves reared as dairy replacements or sold to established customers.
The herd averages 8,649 litres per cow with 3,315 litres produced from forage feeding 2.5 tonnes meal per cow. The calving index is 391 days with Margin over Feed and Forage £1,713 per cow. Milk composition is excellent with butterfat 4.26 per cent and protein 3.39 per cent achieved along with SCC 123 and TBC 31 highlighting careful dairy cow management within the team, which comprises five full-time workers and two part-time relief milkers.
Breeding policy centres on extensive use of sexed semen on heifers with cows presently calving down to House, Bromley, Nihao and Eureka with plans to use Leap and Nihao this winter.
In 2019 first cut silage, which is being fed to high yielding cows, was made on May 15 with analysis indicating DM 27.3 per cent; Protein 15.2 per cent; D-value 70.7; ME 11.3 and pH 3.9 with later cuts used for replacement heifers and the anaerobic digester.
Swards are generally reseeded after arable crops with some direct seeding practiced along with stitch-in seeding where ploughing is difficult. Grazing is via 24 hour paddocks with cows generally out, by day and night, from April through until October. Separated slurry is applied to grazing paddocks with solids fed to the AD plant.
Cows are fed a TMR over the winter with the high and low yield groups targeted at Maintenance +30 litres and + 22 litres respectively.
On the farm 90 per cent of water is supplied from rainwater and on site boreholes with 60 per cent of energy usage supplied from renewable sources – mainly the 225kW wind turbines and 12kW solar panels. Existing areas of trees on the estate have also been enhanced by further planting of local native trees and shrubs.
In recent years a cluster flush system has been installed in the milking parlour with a robotic scraper and Bobman sawdust machine also introduced to improve cleanliness and udder health.
Good discussion took place throughout the visit and society members were delighted to hear Ivor Lowry recommend UGS membership to the assembled crowd, which he said had aided his professional development. Jack Blakiston Houston also touched on succession planning within the business which he said ‘was a process not an event’.
Following lunch and further discussion UGS President Jim Freeburn expressed thanks to the team at Blakiston Houston Estates for hosting such an interesting visit and to those attending for their keen participation, which helped ensure another successful UGS Winter Meeting.