NMR Gold Cup runners-up, Stephen and Mark Montgomery, recently held an open day at their farm at Drumahoe, Co Derry. Richard Halleron reports.
A focus on grass growth and dry matter production has helped brothers Stephen and Mark Montgomery improve their herd’s performance from grazed grass and forage.
Sharing the secrets of their success at an open day on their award-winning farm were Dr Debbie McConnell, from Northern Ireland’s Agri-Food and Biosciences’ Institute; and Dr David Mackey from the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise.
Dr McConnell said: “Grass growth has been exceptional this year in the farm’s catchment area. Dry matter [DM] production in 2019 amounts to 9.2 tonnes DM per hectare. This figure exceeds the equivalent value for 2018 by 1.2t.”
Dr McConnell drew particular attention to the use of slow-release liquid ammonium nitrate as the sole source of chemical nitrogen for the farm’s grazing platform.
This is injected into the swards in April using a bespoke applicator. Fertiliser is placed to a depth of 10cm with the injectors 30cm apart.
Three cuts of grass silage were taken annually at the farm. The first two were used to feed the cows with the third kept for youngstock.
This year’s first two cutting dates were May 4 and June 21.
In contrast to the grazing ground, the silage area was slurried with an umbilical trailing shoe and fertilised conventionally according to requirements.
The brothers commit to producing 25-30 per cent DM silages with metabolisable values coming in at 11.5-12MJ. They also grow winter rye as a wholecrop option.
Dr Mackey explained: “Rye is a labour-efficient option. This year’s crop was harvested on July 20 following a mid-September 2018 sowing date. It had an average 42 per cent DM content.”
Getting as much milk from grazed grass is a fundamental driver for the Montgomerys. Cows are allocated fresh grass every 12 hours, with day paddocks across the road from the farmyard and the night paddocks adjacent to the farm buildings.
Pre-grazing covers were typically 3,000kg DM/ha (1,214kg DM/acre), with cows taken out at about 1,800kg DM/ha (728kg DM/acre). Paddocks were typically topped every second rotation, to maintain sward quality.
This year the cows were out at grass – day and night – by April 19.
During the grazing season the cows were fed a total mixed ration containing 2kg of blend, made available to cows after every milking.
About 85 per cent of the Montgomery brothers’ cows calved between October and December, with all the herd calved down by the end of February – or early March.
Dr Mackey said: “They plan to breed as many of the cows as possible in a six-week window. They are assisted in achieving this level of performance with the use of a heat detection system.
“This level of breeding performance is as good as that achieved by most spring-calving herds.
“It also means the cows are all going out to grass in spring, safely settled in-calf.
“Another follow-on from the short breeding window is the option it provides Stephen and Mark to batch the milking group on the basis of mature cows and firstcalved heifers.”