22 March 1996

Hands-on help for Ulster students

by Robert Davies

STUDENTS at an Ulster college are being given the chance to manage a high yielding dairy herd 365 days a year.

Roy McClenaghan, principal of Greenmount College, was so impressed when he saw the idea of providing hands-on practical management experience during a visit to the US, that he imported it to Co Antrim. Three versions now operate at the college, one for dairying, one for commercial beef and sheep, and the newest involving pedigree Texels.

Twelve first year Higher National Diploma milk option students manage the 20-head Creamer Herd of high genetic merit Holsteins, which was created by purchasing 20 top heifers. These were sourced in England, Wales, Ulster, Canada and Holland and are housed in a unit specially built by other students.

Their project is known as CREAM, an acronym for Co-operative for Real Education in Agricultural Management. They are responsible for year-round three-times-a-day milking, feeding, heat detection and veterinary care. But management and policy decisions are taken in consultation with groups of advisers, drawn from Greenmount staff, farmers and support industry representatives.

"The students have to make regular reports to the advisory groups representing different sectors of management, which develops their communication and leadership skills," Mr McClenaghan claims. "This concept is very much a partnership with industry, allowing students to learn an enormous amount about issues like choice of sires, grassland management, nutrition and finance. But it is important that they contribute to every decision made."

The performance targets for the autumn calving herd are at least 9000 litres from 2t of concentrates a cow. In the current year the herd has a 305-day lactation yield of 9231 litres. Feeding policy aims to optimise yield/cow and profit from high quality grass and silage.

There is space to increase the size of the herd to 30 milkers. Replacements and additional cows will be selected from heifers born within the unit, and the sale of bulls calves decided by students in consultation with college staff. Five bull calves have been retained for a Holstein Club sale.

The success of CREAM has led to the development of BEEF and RAMS. The first, Bringing Effective Education into Farming, involves the management of a unit carrying 350 breeding ewes, 65 suckler cows and two bulls. The cattle performance targets are one calf a cow a year, and a calf growth rate of at least 1kg/day from birth to sale. Bulls are selected on best linear unbiased prediction (BLUP) analysis and estimated breeding value (EBV) figures. The 120 Scottish Blackface ewes must achieve a live lambing percentage of 145%, 120 Cheviots 135%, and 100 cross-breds 170%.

The best pure-bred ewe lambs and ram lambs are retained for breeding or sale. Wether lambs are finished and sold through a marketing group.

Eight students with a particular interest in pedigree sheep breeding are involved in RAMS, or Real Agricultural Management for Sheep. This focuses on the management of 20 high index Texels, and provides experience of running a registered flock, selection and genetic improvement.n

Students at Greenmount College are managing the 20-head Creamer Herd of top genetic Holsteins. The project is well supported by agribusiness.