Investments in technology have made an award-winning Sligo-based progressive dairy enterprise “a lot smoother and safer to run”, writes farming journalist, Catherina Cunnane.
32-year-old 2022 FBD Young Farmer of the Year, Christopher Tuffy, runs a 150-cow spring-calving high-EBI herd on a leased block of land alongside his parents, partner, Eimear, and their child, Iarlaith, 35 miles from his home soil.
All cows are calved and remain on the leased plot, while heifer calves return to the home farm, where they remain until they are 24-months of age, before returning to the rented out block and male calves and beef-sired progeny are sold off-farm.
Speaking as part of Aurvio’s recent webinar entitled, managing health and safety on the farm, he said that “the most important thing for us is the safety of our employees and to make it an enjoyable and safe place to work”.
“We do pride ourselves in enjoying the farm as much as we can, so that involves having quite a few part-time labour units.”
The family has proactively attempted to make the enterprise safer by implementing changes in the areas of livestock and machinery.
“Due to issues with some teaser bulls, we installed collars on cows and moved to 100% AI with the main dairy herd, but we do have some bulls with dairy heifers, as the home block is a bit more fragmented.”
“With collars, we still have to get relief milkers. We still have to pick up cows in heat, but it makes the farm more enjoyable and safer for our staff. We think technology has played a huge part from this point of view.”
The farm also installed a drafting gate, which works automatically and syncs with collars, so there is less handling with cows for scanning, AI’ing, ect.
“Whatever we need to do with cows. We can do it from the phone. It is a safe operation.”
Calf health and welfare
The Sligo-based enterprise also has erected calf hutches, uses calf jackets, and has invested in a specialised calf transportation crate.
“We used to have to lift calves out of the shed, but this year, we bought a crate – which cost us €1,100 – and goes on the front of the loader.”
“You can put about ten calves into it, and it has made a difference for our staff and calves. Now, you can pull the teleporter up to the door of the calving shed, get the crate and load up calves nice and easily so it puts less stress on them.”
Moreover, there are automatic scrapers, an automatic calf feeder, and cameras in its calving and cubicle sheds, which, in the words of Tuffy, “are just magic”.
“A few years ago, we were going over checking a cow [for calving], and now we can just watch her here on the iPad. Cameras are absolutely essential.”
He told viewers of the virtual information session, chaired by Orla O’Brien, environmental health and safety specialist at Aurvio Agri-Business:
“We have a fertiliser spreader, a brand-new quad with a helmet, a tractor, a teleporter and mowers. Every machine that has a PTO should have a cover.”
“All machines are checked and serviced. While we do not have much machinery, we generally try to keep everything right.”
“The garage is only a mile from home, so every time there is something wrong, we try to bring it over. I do my own fertiliser spreading, and we utilise ag contractors as much as we can.”
“We find if we give them plenty of notice for work, it makes their lives a lot easier and mine too,” he concluded.