THIS year’s Promar Dairy Farmer of the Year was awarded to Dale Farm member and YFCU member Roger McCracken, who received his award at the Dairy Winter Fair.
The award is given annually to a farmer whose Promar management results have shown the most improvement in the past 12 months.
Roger farms alongside his father John, just outside Ballywalter.
The main farm enterprise consists of 150 Holstein cows and followers, with 150-170 store lambs bought in annually to assist with grassland management by grazing excess grass during the winter months.
Twenty-five acres of barley is also grown each year as part of the grassland rotation, allowing for 25 acres of grass to be reseeded each year. This high yielding herd is currently averaging 8,693 litres per cow at 4.13 per cent butterfat and 3.31 per cent protein.
Milkminder is a dairy management benchmarking tool which allows farmers to input their own information online in exchange for monthly reports on milk production, feed usage and profit margins; as well as allowing you to benchmark your business with other farmers in your area.
Roger has used the Promar Milkminder service to track his herds performance for many years, and uses the data generated to make informed business decisions.
The McCracken’s previously won this award in 2010 and have since continued to maintain their focus on maximising milk production from forage, through utilising bought in feed efficiently. Roger’s Milkminder figures demonstrate that his focus has become a reality with a Milk From Forage result of 3,626 litres per cow, and a purchased feed cost of 6.29 pence per litre.
Winter feeding consists of a flat rate TMR, made up of 38kg fresh silage, 8kg whole crop silage, and 4kg of concentrate consisting of 2kg home grown barley and 2kg of a 32 per cent protein blend delivered through the diet feeder.
Cows are also fed a 20 per cent concentrate nut through the parlour – this is fed based on individual cow yield, which is assisted by the parlours auto ID system which was fitted when the new parlour was installed in 2010.
Roger aims to keep his average feed rate around 0.28 to 0.30 kg of feed per litre. To achieve this, he works closely alongside the United Feeds team to monitor and adjust rations to suit specific needs throughout the year.
Great importance is placed on aiming to make three cuts of high quality silage to achieve these results, with this year’s first cut silage analysing at 38 per cent DM, D Value of 72, ME of 11.6 and 17.7 per cent Protein.
Located on the Ards Peninsula, an area renowned for producing ‘early grass’, is a great benefit to the McCrackens when it comes to making good quality silage. The first cut is often taken in the first week of May, with second and third cuts taking place at six-eight week intervals. Roger mows and teds the grass using his own machinery, allowing at least 24 hours of wilting before the grass is lifted by his contractor. Additive (Ecosyl) is applied to all grass at ensiling.
Summer months see cows turned out to grass. Typically, cows are turned out in early April for the daytime period between milkings, before being increased to full time grazing by the end of April. Roger finds this allows cows to adjust slowly to the change in diet, with a transition from a silage based diet to fresh grass.
Cows are strip grazed, with a new grazing area being made available after each milking. This system is made possible as a result of good accessibility, aided by a series of lane ways which span throughout the McCracken’s farmland, all of which is located within reasonable proximity to the main yard and milking parlour.
Grazing ground is sown with 75kg per acre of 27 per cent Nitrogen (1.5 bags/acre) after each grazing. Soil sampling is performed for each field every four years, fertiliser and lime application is then applied as required based on the analysis.
The McCrackens herd calves from September to April, with AI used during the housed period. Typically, three to four AI bulls are chosen each year. When choosing bulls Roger places an emphasis on fat and protein, as well as keeping an eye on milk volume and fertility index. The farm stock bull is used to catch any cows which fall outside of the main serving period.
Over the past 10 years the McCrackens have made a number of investments, all geared towards making their farm business more efficient.
They have made use of available space to install a herring bone crush and automatic backing gate to be more labour efficient.
Roger and John have made the most of the space they have through a number of conversions; the old parlour and the old hen loft have been converted into calf houses, the old collecting yard has been converted into a dry cow house, as well as a number of other houses which have been renovated into very functional sheds for young stock.
Looking forward, expansion isn’t a priority for Roger and John, this is primarily due to the restriction which land availability poses in the area. Instead they have visions of continuing to improve the farm business system and its efficiency by making what they have better.
Roger would like to have the ability to split his main cow herd into batches to allow for more focused feeding to yield during the housed period.
For anyone wishing to avail of the Promar Milkminder programme, contact the Northern Ireland representative Michael Calvert on 079 8069 4389 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org