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Farm Zero Carbon (FZC) Focus at Shinagh Dairy Farm Open Day

Can we achieve a climate neutral and profitable dairy farm? Join us at the Shinagh Open Day on Friday, 2 September at 11am and find out why we think so. John McNamara, Padraig French, Teagasc & Kevin Ahern, Manager, tell us more about Shinagh dairy farm and it's environmental & sustainability focus

Can we achieve a climate neutral and profitable dairy farm?

Join us at the Shinagh Open Day on Friday, 2 September at 11am and find out why we think so.


  • Shinagh dairy farm began milk production in 2011 and has demonstrated over the last nine years that a well-managed grass based dairy farm can adequately remunerate all of the resources employed including land, labour and capital
  • While the farm has focused in the past on managing the economic risks and challenges associated with dairy farm conversion, start-up, expansion and volatility, the farm in the future will also focus on the challenges that the industry faces on environmental and social sustainability
  • The technical focuses of Shinagh dairy farm have been to maximise the amount of grass grown and utilised per hectare and to optimise the proportion of the cows’ diet coming from grazed grass, the future technical focuses will include reducing carbon, nitrogen and ammonia losses from the farm and improving labour efficiency while optimising animal welfare


Shinagh dairy farm near Bandon in West Cork is a Teagasc-led project demonstrating efficient spring milk production from grass on a farm that was converted from a beef farm in 2010, with the first cows being milked in January 2011. The 78 ha farm is owned by the four west Cork co-ops and was leased at €450/ha for 15 years by Shinagh Dairy Farm Ltd.  The total conversion costs for the farm was €820,000, with €260,000 of that provided by the West Cork Co-Ops as equity and the remainder borrowed with a 15 year loan costing approximately €46.5k per year to service. The labour on the farm is provided by two full time people: the farm manager (Kevin Ahern) and a another full time staff member, along with part time labour in spring and for relief throughout the year with total labour costs of approximately €95k/year 

Farm performance

Over the last nine years the focus of the farm has been to maximise grass production and utilisation and to breed a high EBI crossbred herd that could calve compactly at the start of the grass growing season and efficiently convert grass into milk solids (Table 1). The farm has successfully exceeded all of the performance targets that were established at the outset of the project and this has led to very significant cash surpluses and accumulated profits (Figure 1). While there has been inter-year variation in cash surpluses and profit due primarily to milk price volatility the farm is now very resilient due to a very low breakeven milk price of less than 23 c/l. 

Future focus

The original objectives of Shinagh dairy farm were to identify and manage the economic risks and challenges associated with a dairy farm conversion with significant  volatility in milk price and these will continue to be significant considerations in the future with continued monitoring and reporting of all of the KPI that drive dairy farm profitability. However the farm in the future will also focus on some of the other challenges that the industry faces on environmental and social sustainability. These will include strategies to reduce the carbon footprint of the milk produced, reduce the total ammonia emissions from the farm and increase the nitrogen efficiency and the biodiversity value of the farm. These will be dealt with below under the heading Farm Zero Carbon emmisions. 

Farm Zero Carbon (FZC)

The programme to make Shinagh farm carbon neutral is funded by Science Foundation Ireland (SFI). Most of the funding will be used for trial work on products and methods that may reduce the overall emissions from a dairy farm. The items on the MACC curve that reduce the carbon footprint will be implemented on the farm. 

Introduction of Clover into pastures

This is an ongoing process in Shinagh. Every paddock being reseeded is getting 5kg/ha of clover seed. All other paddocks will be top seeded with clover at a similar rate. Clover can add up to 150kg of nitrogen per hectare per year through the nodules on the clover roots. Shinagh will reduce its total bag fertiliser by 150kg of nitrogen per hectare per year. 

Breeding more efficient Cows

The selection of more efficient dairy cows is also of paramount importance. From an animal breeding standpoint, there are two key improvement goals: firstly, extend the lifespan of each animal and reduce the requirement for replacements; and secondly, to further increase individual animal performance for grazed pasture. Increasing herd Economic Breeding Index (EBI) by €10 per year increases annual farm profitability (by €20/cow/yr) and reduces GHG emissions by 2% per annum. In addition, selection of dairy cows that are capable of achieving large intakes of forage relative to their size and genetic potential for milk production increases feed efficiency and also reduces nutrient losses. Efficient grazing animals should produce in excess of 90% of bodyweight in annual milk solids production to increase N use efficiency. Shinagh will be aggressively selecting on EBI and will use milk recording to eliminate inefficient animals. 

Protected Urea

All nitrogen fertiliser used on the farm will be in the form of protected urea. Research has shown that protecting urea with a urease inhibitor reduces loss of NH3 to the environment by 80%. Furthermore, protected urea reduces N2O losses by 71% compared with ammonium nitrate, without compromising productivity. Results from several studies indicate that protecting 50 kg/ha of urea-N will save 6 kg N/ha, which can increase the value of grass growth by up to €40/ha per yr. Protected urea can help reduce N losses to water by holding N in ammonium form, which is more stable in soil particularly during wet conditions. 

Low emission slurry spreading (LESS)

All slurry spread on the farm will be by low emission slurry equipment. Using LESS methods, such as trailing shoe or band spreaders, has a large effect on N losses and increases slurry N value by 10%, thereby increasing pasture productivity and further reducing chemical N requirements. 

Reducing the protein in the dairy ration

On average, Irish dairy cows have a requirement for a diet with a Crude Protein (CP) content of 15 to 17%. The milking cow’s diet will be balanced to 16% protein in the total diet. Grass is normally above 20% protein and makes up the bulk of the milking cows diet. Therefore the protein content of the supplementary ration can be 12% while the cows are on grass. In spring and autumn when the milking cows are on silage the protein of the ration will be 16%. Grazed grass more than adequately meets animal requirements for crude protein. Feeding high CP content concentrates during the grazing season provide excess CP to the dairy cow, who must then expend energy to excrete the excess N. From an environmental perspective, reducing concentrate CP content will reduce N surplus and loss to the environment. A 1% reduction in CP of dairy concentrates reduces N excretion by 1% and also results in a 5% reduction in GHG and NH3 emissions.  

Improving and increasing Bio-diversity

Biodiversity is an important primary environmental indicator of sustainable agricultural systems.The farm has been surveyed and 7.2% of the total area is bio-diverse. A plan will be put in place for the extra measures that will be taken to increase this to 10% with minimal impact on the productive grazing area on the farm. Examples include maintaining and managing existing habitats such as hedgerows and field margins, and the inclusion of watercourse buffer strips. 

Feed additives to reduce rumen methane production

Methane from the cow’s digestive system is the main source of GHG/C emission from milk production. Numerous additives have been fed to cows to reduce methane emissions in research trials, but most are not effective or their effect weakens after a short period i.e. 8 weeks. Ongoing trials of products (mainly seaweed extracts), will continue to attempt to find an effective additive. 

Energy & Water Efficiency

The farm’s main energy uses are for milk cooling (31%), milking (20%) and water heating (23%). A plate cooler and variable speed drives on the vacuum and milk pumps have been installed which will reduce the electricity demand. The installation of solar panels are being investigated to complement the existing wind turbine power generation. 


Shinagh dairy farm will continue to provide leadership to Irish dairy farmers by demonstrating the operation and management of an environmentally and economically efficient farm, while at the same time demonstrating how a dairy farm can reduce its carbon footprint potentially to zero.


  • John McNamara, Teagasc, Cork West Advisory unit
  • Padraig French, Teagasc, Animal & Grassland Research and Innovation Centre, Moorepark, Fermoy, Co. Cork
  • Kevin Ahern, Farm Manager, Shinagh Dairy Farm

Find out more about Shinagh Dairy Farm at Shinagh Farm

You might also like to read A Step by Step Guide to Setting up a New Dairy Farm (PDF)  or contact your local Teagasc Advisor. You can contact any of our Teagasc offices using this link Teagasc Advisory Regions here