The Culbertson family of Gartross Farm, Co Down are continuously looking at innovative ways to enhance the sustainability of their dairy farm. Gareth Culbertson, who runs the family enterprise with his father John, took time out of his busy schedule to highlight the progressive steps they have taken in recent times.
Gareth Culbertson of Gartross Farm needed to reduce milking times and become more efficient. With the future in mind he chose the Swiftflo Revolver from Dairymaster. He subsequently went from nine hours milking to three hours with his new Swiftflo Revolver
Renowned as a super-efficient and a great way to milk cows, the Swiftflo Revolver is one of the world’s most advanced rotary parlour systems and it milks more cows in less time with less labour.
Gareth is a fourth generation farmer and the Culbertson family can trace their farming roots back 80 years in Co Down. Along with his father John and one full-time employee, Gareth is currently milking 350 Pedigree Holstein cows on 550 acres and supply Lakeland Dairies.
The father and son duo took the decision to invest in a state-of-the-art milking parlour last year and they haven’t looked back since.
“We got it installed last year and it has been up and running since October,” he revealed to Irish Tractor & Agri. “The difference between what we were doing before and now is like the difference between night and day. The milking process is now very fast and quick. Other benefits including keeping the cost of labour down because it’s a one-man system, herd health and wasting less time on feed.
“We have invested heavily in the farm in recent years and this has proven to be another good investment from our point of view. We don’t take short cuts.”
The Culbertson’s have expanded steadily in recent years to respond to the changing demands of the sector. When asked to elaborate on what other improvements have been made on the farm in recent times, Gareth replied: “We took the decision four years ago, when the milk price was good, to diversify the farm. We installed two poultry houses, with 36,500 birds in each house.
“It provides us with a separate income other than milk and when the milk price plummeted, the poultry end of things helped to keep the farm going. The poultry end of things is going well for us. If the milk price is bad, poultry tends to be good and vice versa. They provide a backup for each other.”
He continued: “Four years on we installed the parlour with the aim of speeding up milking because it was taking too long. Previously, it was taking up to nine hours under our old system but now that’s down to an hour and half.
“We started shared grazing four years ago in an effort to lower the costs on the farm and we have noticed improvement with milk from forage. The herd is presently averaging 8,800 litres on 2.4 ton meal.”
Gareth and John are always striving for improvements to boost the future sustainability of the family-run enterprise.
”A new Calf rearing house was constructed in 2017 to facilitate the offspring of the growing herd on the farm. This house consists of 40 starter pens to get the calves up and going with colostrum before they enter one of four separate pens where two automatic calf feeders assist in the daily feeding of the calf before they are weaned and moved into young calf cubicles.
“The house was built to give our future herd the optimum start in life which should benefit us once these heifers calve down at 24months, the shed also has a tank to help drain any access slurry from the straw giving us a huge saving on bedding and especially when they continue onto cubicles.
“The house has worked tremendously well for us and is very labour efficient. Our goal on the farm is to make investment that makes day to day running easier.”
All of their tractors and associated machinery are well maintained to ensure efficient and reliable service. Gareth runs two main tractors on the farm which are Fendt and these two tractors carry out the bulk of the work being silage, slurry, mowing.
“We aim to complete the silage cutting as quickly as possible so the decision was made to buy another set of push and pulls this year which allowed us to mow 300 acres in one day followed by two tedders helping with the grass as quickly as possible.
“With help from a contracting friend who helps us gather the grass with his two wagons we aim to complete the silage within a couple of days.
“Slurry is the bigger job on the farm with cows housed 365 days so we invested in two OBE slurry tankers complete with trailing shoes. This helps us get slurry on immediately and into the soil without any contact with the leaf allowing us to get the most from our own slurry.”
Gareth has been farming full-time for the past 18 years and he knows what he wants from his farm.
“We want to run a good low-cost system and produce a quality product. We invest heavily in reseeding every Autumn and young layers of grass on the farm is key to the success of the farm. We are always looking to get the most out of what we have.
“We’re always kept busy and like to keep a good protocol on the farm. The aim, as I have said, is to have a good efficient farm that can withstand bad milk prices in the future.”
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Taken from Irish Tractor & Agri magazine Vol 7 No 4, August 2019