Suckler beef to dairy in Co Down

CORNER ORR RI Farm
n Stuart Orr living the dream.

STUART Orr, Foundation degree in Agriculture and Rural Studies, Greenmount 2015, writes:

As I write this article cows are at grass day and night, conditions are favourable and I am relieved to say I have had a fantastic summer for my inaugural year in milk production. Here’s hoping for more summers of the same. For those who don’t know me, my name is Stuart Orr and I farm outside Ballynahinch, County Down.

The milking herd kicked off at Castleviggan in mid-October 2018 after building a new cubicle house, dairy and installing a second hand 20/40 parlour. Up until this point we kept suckler cows and finished all cattle to beef. Investment was needed in new housing for the growing suckler herd, and I took the decision that if building was needed, it would be done for the dairy enterprise I had always wanted.

I never made a secret of the fact that this was my end goal and my studies in Foundation degree in Agriculture and Rural Studies at Greenmount in 2014 were tailored to this effect. I took on the enterprise management module of CREAM where we, as students, managed 30 high yielding Holsteins. We took decisions about breeding and feeding and anything else in between.

I also picked modules in farm building and farm business management. My lecturer, Kevin Henry, will be delighted to hear that the latter proved invaluable in my pursuit of dairy farming. Formulating business plans, forecasted cash flows and balance sheets may not have been so easy otherwise.

I also had the opportunity to take a work placement at Joseph Walls Ltd, where I got the opportunity to visit farms all across the Province to discuss their feed, seed and fertiliser needs. It also gave me the chance to witness first-hand the many different systems of dairy production in Northern Ireland and decide what I felt would work best for me.

Currently we are carrying 130 Holstein Friesian cows calving predominantly in the autumn and a few Jersey X spring calvers for good measure. The plan is to move totally to autumn/winter calving. We try to take as much as possible from grazed grass and make multiple cuts of silage in round bales to maximise quality.

All of this is overseen by the watchful eye of my CAFRE Dairy adviser, Michael Verner. His knowledge and expertise have been invaluable since I joined his BDG dairy group almost two years ago. He is always at the end of the phone for any query that I have.

I look forward to reviewing our first benchmarked year in dairy and annual key performance indicators in the coming months. As we enter a time of uncertainty and lower milk price, it will be my primary goal in 2020 to improve on all the KPI’s to the best of my ability.

I can remember Irish Farmers Journal editor Justin McCarthy speaking at a beef conference at Greenmount in 2015. He summarised the talk perfectly by saying, ‘you can do very little to affect the price outside the farmgate, but you can do everything to affect it inside it’.

Don’t be disheartened too much by bad prices but strive to build a resilient and ‘volatility averse’ business for the future by looking after efficiency inside the ‘March ditch’.

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