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Dermot Heaney

Dermot is dairy farming at Kilberry, Navan, Co. Meath with his wife Catherine and 4 children Andrew (24), Laura (23), Matthew (20) and Diurmuid (17).  Dairying is his main enterprise, milking 250 cows. He has one full time hired labour unit with additional labour supplied by students in Spring. His son, who is in school, works 20 hours/week on the farm.

Farm size: 113ha
Overall stocking rate: 241kg organic N/ha
Herd EBI: €189, heifers €246
6 week calving rate: 87%
Milk solids/cow: 467 kg in 2020
Soil type: Free draining
Grass: Grass grown on the farm was 13.0t DM/ha in 2020. 
Soil fertility: Good

Grass measuring

Dermot is recording all grass measurements through Pasturebase and this is a very useful tool on this farm for making grassland decisions, particularly as the stocking rate on the grazing platform and whole farm are high at 3 LU/Ha, and 2.8LU/Ha respectively. 


Facilities are good with a 24 unit parlour, cubicle space for 248 cows, good grazing infrastructure all paddocked. Good silage storage facilities.


Dermot’s most significant challenge is to reduce total chemical nitrogen use on the farm, while at the same time maintain/ grow grass production. He reseeded 5% of the farm in 2021 and used 2kg of clover in the mix. There was zero N used on those swards since reseeding, forcing the clover to establish and become effective.  He has tried oversowing but was unsuccessful as the farm was hit by drought but he will look at it again in 2022.

Dermot is concerned about chemical N price right now and forecasted for the early part of 2022.  He will analyse the slurry in January to help make informed decisions on how much slurry to spread to get the optimum value from it.  Dermot has his own umbilical system with dribble bar, therefore all slurry is spread using LESS.  This is a win win for Dermot, supplying additional nitrogen, giving more flexibility to grazing and reducing emissions. 

Dermot used all protected urea in 2021, bar 12 tonnes of CAN. He has been using it for the last 4-5 years and is very happy with the product.  He has ordered straight urea for the Spring but will use protected urea in 2022. 

Carbon footprint

The carbon footprint for this farm is 0.85kg CO2 / kg fat and protein corrected milk, information he gets from his Bord Bia Farmer Feedback report.  He is aiming to reduce the footprint to 0.70 kg CO2-e / kg milk by 2025.  He is also conscious that reducing the footprint is not enough without reducing total emissions. 

He reduced cow numbers by 5%(12) cows in 2021. These were the marginal cows that were later calving, and producing the lowest level of KgMs within their lactation. His stocking rate on the grazing platform and whole farm is high. This means that often closing up silage area can leave the farm stocked very heavily. Dermot has found that by reducing cow numbers by 5%(12 cows), he has taken the pressure off the grazing and total milk solids supplied in 2021 have remained the same for the farm.


In terms of biodiversity, there is improvements to be made on the farm. Dermot has identified key areas of the farm where new biodiversity area can be established, and existing areas be enhanced.  Dermot plans to plant treelines surrounding the farmyard to reduce ammonia emissions from the farmyard but also add to his biodiversity measure.   

Farm Updates - Dermot Heaney

Farm Update October 2022

Sustainability Results

The Signpost Demonstration Farm Sustainability Results were issued on Friday last and as Signpost farmers, we are all getting individual farm reports.  The overall report for dairy is in the image below.  The figures we have now are just the baseline figures for the farms involved.  It’s the progress over the next few years that will be important.   

This individual report will give me all my environmental figures including total greenhouse gas emissions for the farm, carbon footprint per kg of milk produced, total ammonia emissions as well as nitrogen use efficiency.  We will also get profit sustainability figures as well as some data on the labour efficiency on the farm. It’s good to see all 3 of these put together – environment, profit and work life balance.  We need to be able to show that we can look after the environment while at the same time showing a good profit.

Reducing Emissions

Based on the analysis of my farm, total emissions for the farm is 1,420 tonnes.  It doesn’t mean much on its own but next year when we have 2 years data on the programme, I will be able to see the progress I am making in reducing total emissions.  The carbon footprint for the farm is 0.90 kg CO2 equivalent per kg of fat and protein corrected milk (FPCM for short), which indicates the production efficiency on the farm.  This compares to the average for the Signpost dairy farmers of 0.93 kg CO2 equiv. per kg FPCM and lower than the average for the National Farm Survey which is 1.06 kg CO2 equiv. per kg FPCM.


In terms of fertiliser, I used 27% less chemical N per ha in 2022, a substantial saving for the farm but with little effect on grass growth.  I reckon growth is back 0.5tonnes / ha in comparison to last year, but I don’t put that all down to fertilizer because the drought in late summer will account for much of this.  Of the nitrogen spread, 36% of it was spread as protected urea in 2021, compared to 40% for the average Signpost dairy farm and higher than the National Farm Survey dairy farms (7% of N spread as protected urea).  The figure might be low for the country but it is now moving in the right direction which is good.    For our farm, 93% of the total N spread in 2022 was spread as protected urea. 


Low emission slurry spreading (LESS) was used for 100% of my slurry and all slurry was spread in spring, giving me the maximum nutrient value from it.  I think if you spread slurry between February and May with LESS, you triple the nitrogen available from it compared to splash plate and summer spreading.  This allows me to pull back on chemical N.  My nitrogen use efficiency for 2021 was 23%, which is low, but I am not surprised as I was using a lot of N last year.  I would be confident that the figure for 2022 will be substantially better with more efficient use of chemical nitrogen.   

Going Forward

It will be interesting to see how the farm performs next year and the impact of the actions I took this year will have on my total greenhouse gas emissions. The big reduction in chemical nitrogen use and the increase in the use of protected urea should drive my total greenhouse gas emissions down.    

It is useful to have this data for the farm, because it’s hard to change what you don’t measure. Ideally all farmers should have access to this data.  My understanding is that there will be an online tool available through Teagasc, maybe early next year, that will give all farmers access to this type of information.  It’s very difficult to reduce your emissions by 25% when you don’t know what the starting point is. 







September 2022


Grass cover per cow is just 170 kg DM and at this stage of the year trying to build Autumn grass it should be closer to 250 kg DM / cow on this farm.  Bottom line we are very short of grass.  It’s a dry farm and this lack of rain has really taken its toll.  At the moment we are feeding 6-7 bales of silage to 233 cows which works out at 6.5 kg DM silage per cow per day, add that to 3kg of meal and over half the diet is silage and meal right now.  I am feeding silage at the feed barrier with half the cows getting it in the morning and the other half in the evening.  I know is the right thing to do to feed silage now when growth is getting going since the rain. Feeding silage now will mean I won’t have to feed it for as long. A lot of people are trying to hold off on feeding silage but I think you just have to bite the bullet and put it in, it will pay off in the longer term this autumn. I am going to pull out a portion of the empty cows to sell.  I’d rather not do it particularly with milk price being as high as it is but on a heavily stocked farm like this, it doesn’t make sense holding them when I am struggling to build grass for the Autumn.  I will pull out cows that are poor milkers, poor feet and high cell counts.

Fodder Budget

I did my fodder budget a few weeks ago with Owen but it’s something I will go back and do again when I get things back on track.  I have used a lot of bales so I need to be sure I am still ok for the Winter. This is the reality of a changing climate, extreme weather events are going to become more common and we need to adapt to that and make a reserve of silage to fill the gaps that will occur more regularly.  This year is nothing like 2018 but a drought just the same that needs to be managed.


I mentioned last month that I was planning on investing in equipment to reduce the electricity bill and improve sustainability in that area.  A win win for the farm.  I have ordered the variable speed vacuum pump.  There is no grant on this so I am waiting on it to arrive.  I have also decided to invest in a heat recovery unit, I have applied for the grant and I’m waiting on approval for the grant before I order it. 

Recharge the Batteries !

We have been talking about the environmental and economic sustainability of the farm for the past few months but it’s also important for me to make sure I can take a break from the farm and recharge the batteries before the Autumn. I was on holidays in the UK recently and am heading to Portugal for a break next week.  It takes a bit of planning to take this time off but it’s worth it.

August 2022

Growing the same grass with less N

Drought is a bit of an issue right now.  I am having to water the new hedge around the yard.  When I went to the effort of getting it into the ground, I want to give it every chance to grow. Aside from the hedge, I am growing 66 kg DM / ha / ha, with a demand of 55kg DM, so I am ok but wouldn’t like it to go any lower.  I will continue to hold the 21 day rotation if it does get tighter, upping the meals first and then silage….but only if I have to.  I am currently feeding 1 kg meals. 

Grassland management

I did a check on my grass grown for 2022, year to date, and it was 7.4 tonnes DM / ha.  For the same period last year it was 7.3 kg DM…. so no difference.  But the real difference was in the nitrogen spread.  I have spread 157 kg N so far this year, compared to 204 kg N in 2021.  I am delighted with this.  What do I put this down to?  Getting the clover right on the farm, a reseeding plan, better use of slurry and sorting out the soil pH.  Also having the encouragement from my adviser, other farmers and researchers to believe the science and take the plunge and reduce N rates over the summer.  I am not using 25 units for every round.  I probably could pull it back even further.  It didn’t happen overnight but it’s great to finally see the result.  I will come back to this again at the back end of the year when I have a full years data.


I dosed last week for worms and also did the cows for IBR.  This is my first worm dose of the year.  The advice from my vet is to wait until the 1st signs of calves coughing and that’s what I did. I waited until I had a few calves coughing.  I also did dung samples lately and nothing showed up.  Another time I might have blindly dosed for fluke without thinking whether I needed it or not, just shows I was probably over dosing. 

Reducing costs

Now that things are a little quieter on the farm and I have time to do some planning, I am working with my new adviser, Niamh Lynch, to see how we can get our electricity bills under control and at the same time reduce emissions.  There are a few things I am looking at doing including installing a variable speed vacuum pump, a heat recovery unit and possibly solar panels.  We are trying to work out the grants available to me.

April 2022


I have made a big change on my fertiliser application rates for the 2nd round this year.  Traditionally, I have always spread 30 units per rotation for the main season.  This year, based on the research and the advice of my advisers, I have cut that back to 20 units per rotation.  And if that works, I will go further and reduce to 0.8 units per day of the rotation or 16 units on a 21 day rotation.  The latest research from Moorepark is stating that 0.8 units per day is sufficient for the main grazing season. 

I have worked hard to build the soil fertility on this farm and that is giving me some confidence to try this.  I would be lying if I didn’t say I was nervous but I have to trust the research and the advice and try it.  I have many years of grass measurement and I will know very quickly whether or not its working.  I have a dry farm so drought is always a concern but loading on the nitrogen is not going to solve the problem if there isn’t enough water present in the soil!

Reseeding & Clover

I’m getting ready to do some reseeding and getting clover into the swards.  It’s important to me as it will reduce my fertiliser costs and help me to meet my obligations to reduce greenhouse gases. In 2021, the nitrogen use efficiency for the farm was 25% but the nitrogen use efficiency for the best performing paddocks with 20-25% clover included were 38-39%, which is a huge advantage.  It gives us a lot less waste of fertiliser.  Based on fertiliser prices in 2021, that’s a saving of €250 / ha.  If you take this year’s prices, that cost saving is at least double that.

I am reseeding 18 acres this year, 3 paddocks in total.  I picked 2 of the paddocks because they had been drained last year and were ripped up.  The other paddock was performing poorly, not sure why but it may have had something to do with low soil pH. I have sprayed off the 3 paddocks since the 14th of April and hope to be sowing this week.  I will be using a power harrow with the seeder box mounted on it – one pass system.  I will apply 2 bags of 10 10 20 when reseeding. 

Soil Fertility

Soil fertility is good on the farm overall.  All 3 paddocks have P & K Index of 3+.  Soil pH is a little on the low side for clover at 6.2-6.3.  For this reason I will be applying 2.5 tonne of lime per acre at sowing – 1-1.5 tonnes to neutralise the effects of spraying off the old sward and 1.0 tonnes to increase the pH

I am using a mix of Aston Energy, Aston Conqueror, Pastor (red clover – 2kg), Chieftain (white clover – 1.5kg) and Jura (white clover – 0.5kg).  Medium leaf size is preferable for grazing dairy cows.  Jura is small leafed but its included at a low level. The red clover is included to give the reseed a boost in the 1st couple of years. 


I lost a few cows back around St.Patricks Day with bloat.  The cows had been on paddocks with 10-12% clover on them.  I lost another cow 2 weeks later to bloat and the cows had been on a grass only sward.  It may not have been the clover but it has made me a little nervous of the clover. I suppose it has made me realise the importance of good management around clover.  I have researched an application system for bloat oil and it would cost €600-900 and the cost of the oil is 7-14c/cow/day, depending on the application rate.  In total, it would cost me €4000-5000 per year to apply at a low rate from April to September.  It sounds like a lot but it’s the cost of 3 cows so worth it.  Aside from the bloat oil, I’ll ensure the cows are not going into the grass clover swards too hungry and gorging on it.

Careful management after sowing will be critical to get the value out of it.  It cannot be just sown and forgotten about.  This has perhaps given clover a bad name over the years.  The next job after sowing is weed control for reseeded swards.  I have the Clover Max ordered as I hear its hard to get this year.  It will take effort but I believe it’s worth the effort for many reasons.  I will keep you updated through the summer on my progress with clover.  

I also intend doing some oversowing this year also.  I am focusing on paddocks that already have some clover in them and the oversowing will boost that.   


I am conscious that I have to make sure my silage pits are filled for next winter as I would be concerned that the availability of alternatives will be limited so I need to carefully balance my clover incorporation targets and the making enough quality silage.  My sales rep told me last week that meal is gone over €400 / tonne.  I don’t want to be supplementing with high levels of meal next autumn to keep condition on cows.  High quality silage will do that for me.  In the past I would have been tempted to feed extra meal through the summer when milk price was high.  I won’t be doing that this year.  It makes no sense economically at €400+ / tonne. 

March 2022

We have had a few problems in recent weeks but that’s farming for you. I have had a  couple of cows with bloat, some cows with milk fever and cell counts up a little higher than where I’d like to see them but that may have been due to a problem with the parlour a few weeks back. Thankfully, all is getting sorted. 


We are no sooner out of the calving season than we are facing into the breeding season. I put a lot of emphasis on breeding high EBI animals. Breeding efficient animals has a major impact on reducing the carbon footprint of the herd. Every €10 improvement in EBI will reduce carbon footprint by 1%. That’s significant in reducing emissions but also every €10 increase in herd EBI will increase profit by €20/cow. It’s a win win for me. 

I put a lot of effort on getting the basics right at pre-breeding stage.  Cows are tail painted, and all heats are recorded. Throughout the calving season I keep records of any cow that had a difficult calving, retained cleanings, or any other metabolic disorders, and these cows are prioritised for vet checks pre-breeding to ensure a successful breeding season.

Make use of available decision advice ools

Its important that we, as farmers, make the best use of the tools available to us to help make good decisions on the farm. At this time of the year, two tools that I use a lot are:

  • the Sire Advice tool on the ICBF website
  • milk recording data.

I use the sire advice tool for not just my bull selection, but my dam selection also. I select the cows that I don’t want replacement heifers bred off and mark them to beef sires. I also select cows for crossbreding, and culling. All decisions made are based off the cow’s fertility performances, milk recording data, and EBI.

Sexed Semen

I am planning on using some sexed semen this Spring, with approximately 50 straws ordered. I tried it maybe 4-5 years ago but conception rates were poor so I went away from it. As we now have a laboratory in Ireland, I expect I will get better results with sexed semen. I am using it to speed up the rate of genetic improvement in the herd and also to have more saleable beef calves rather than Fr bull calves. I will use sexed semen on some of the maiden heifers with the highest EBI and cows will be selected based on high Metricheck, body condition score, days calved, easy calvers and cows that had no retained cleanings.

Genomic testing kits

I am just about to order the genomic testing kits for the heifers.  I have a surplus of heifers this year, possibly up to 15 calves to sell.  I will genomically test the heifers and pick the highest EBI heifers for breeding and sell the rest. I order the kits from ICBF. I am in the Gene Ireland Programme and the kits cost €18 per calf. Its money well spent as it takes the guess work out of selecting the best heifers to retain in the herd. I trust that EBI will deliver for me.


We needed to do a little work on improving biodiversity on the farm, so we made a start this Spring and put in a hedge of native plants around the perimeter of the yard including:

  • white thorn
  • black thorn
  • gilder rose
  • dog rose
  • spindle

We also put in 50 metres of white thorn only along a stream on the farm.