Diversification continues apace within Northern Ireland’s dairy industry. It is an obvious response to the growing pressure on farmers to find methods of adding to their income in ways that will secure the overall sustainability of their businesses.
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An excellent example of this is the exciting, farm-based ice cream opportunity that has been developed by Stephen and Amanda Gibson, who milk 105 cows close to Hillsborough in Co Down.

Their Hollowbridge Farm brand is now much sought after by consumers in the North Down area and with the summer of 2022 not that far away, the couple expect a significant update in sales over the coming months.

The brand is named after the farm, which has been home to the Gibson family for six generations. Stephen and all the other family members are also featuring in the current season of the popular UTV series ‘Rare Breed’. “I run the farm with my father Nevin,” Stephen explained.

“We are totally committed to producing milk in the most sustainable way possible. Appearing on the ‘Rare Breed’ programme has been tremendous fun.

“But we agreed to do it on the basis that it would reflect our commitment to put the cows and the other animals on the farm first at all times.”

He continued: “And the same principle holds, where the ice cream is concerned. We use our milk to make the product. And we are guaranteeing that it is produced in the most natural way possible.

“A key selling point of Hollowbridge Farm Ice Cream is the fact that we are guaranteeing customers total traceability. What’s more, our milk production is very much driven by the grass and other forages that we grow here on the farm.”

According to Stephen, the ice cream operation only accounts for a very small proportion of the milk produced by Hollowbridge cows.

“However, the potential to expand the scope of the business is significant.”

From a herd management point of view, optimising animal health levels has always been a priority for Stephen and Nevin.

“It’s an approach that means we can produce the milk we need in the most efficient way possible,” Stephen explained.

The 105-strong Hollowbridge herd is currently averaging 9,200L at 4.01% butterfat and 3.25% protein

An excellent example of Stephen’s commitment to maximising herd health is his testing of all freshly calved cows for negative energy imbalance.

For example, a small sample of blood is all that’s required to determine whether or not a cow is subclinical, where this metabolic disorder is concerned.

Given this backdrop, it will not come as a surprise to learn that the team at Hollowbridge Farm has developed a close working relationship with their counterparts at Animal Health Vision (AHV).

The Co Tyrone-based business has been offering dairy and other livestock farmers in Northern Ireland a range of natural solutions when it comes to maintaining the highest animal health levels within their herds.

“I have consistently used AHV Booster tablets to meet the needs of cows impacted by negative energy imbalance directly after calving,” Stephen confirmed.

“They act to boost animals’ liver and rumen function. And the experience gained here on the farm over the past number of years confirms that the tablets work tremendously well.”

Stephen also uses AHV’s ASPI drench on his cows and other animals on his farm. This is to improve the welfare of the animals.

“It is an invaluable product, for example, when a cow has had a difficult calving.”

For its part, AHV continues to bring a selection of new and exciting products to market.

Cows that have come through a difficult calving will also be prone to dehydration due to the accompanying loss of fluids. They will also require bespoke energy and mineral boosts at this time.

In order to meet this need, AHV has developed its Booster Drench Powder, which is suitable for all cows that look dull after calving.

“The product comes in one-kilo sachets. These can be mixed easily in 20L of lukewarm water and then given to the cow as a drench.

A bespoke drenching pump is also available from AHV. It holds exactly 20L. In terms of its design, the pump features a nose holder that is fixed to the tube that goes down the cow’s throat.

The holder can then be attached easily to the animal’s nose, which ensures that the tube stays in place while she is being drenched.

Stephen continued:

“Increasing numbers of farmers are now using the AHV Booster Powder with very positive results obtained.

“In reality, all cows need a pick-me-up after a difficult calving. It’s all about providing them with the extra fluids, energy and minerals they need in a readily available format.”

AHV Booster Powder has been specifically formulated to meet this need.

At the midpoint of the year, the all-milk price forecast for 2022 is a whopping $26.20 per hundredweight (cwt), according to the June 2022 USDA/ERS Livestock, Dairy and Poultry Outlook report.

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