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National Milk Quality Virtual Farm Walk on Starrett Farm

National Milk Quality Virtual Farm Walk on Starrett Farm

The Starrett family farm hosts a webinar and social media takeover on Tuesday 29th June at 11am. The Starretts were overall winners of the 2020 NDC & Kerrygold Quality Milk Awards. A Fact sheet on the farm is outlined here along with registration details for the event. You won't want to miss this!

(Main photo above: Richard Starrett, his wife Wendy, and their three children David, Holly and John)

This event organised by Teagasc, with the support of Aurivo Co-Op, the National Dairy Council and Ornua, will celebrate the excellence of Irish dairy farming highlighted annually by the NDC & Kerrygold Quality Milk Awards.

Richard Starrett who supplies to Aurivo Co-Op is the overall winner of the 2020 NDC & Kerrygold Quality Milk Awards.  His farm in Lifford, Co. Donegal is a true family operation where he resides with his parents, his wife Wendy and children David, Holly and John. 

A bit about the farm

The farm comprises of a spring calving dairy herd and they are supplying Aurivo Co-Op. Richard took over the farm in 1994 when his father availed of the early retirement scheme. The herd at the time comprised of approx.70 cows. The herd has gradually expanded over the years and the Starrett family are currently milking 160 cows. 

The farm currently consists of 64 hectares, made up of owned and leased land. The milking platform is 54 hectares. The overall farm stocking rate is 2.45 LU/ha and the milking platform stocking rate is 2.9 LU/ha. The heifer calves are contract reared off farm after weaning. Half of the 1–2-year-old heifers are also contact reared with the other half reared at home.

Environmental Measures

Richard believes sustainability is the biggest and most important aspect of farming and is focused on improving the sustainability of his farm. The following are some of the environmental measures that Richard carries out on farm:

  • Soil testing
  • Nutrient Management Planning (NMP)
  • Low Emission Slurry Spreading (LESS)
  • Use of protected urea
  • own water supply recycling water
  • solar panels on farm
  • Protection of farm waterways
  • Hedgerow and conservation areas for habitat protection 

See full factsheet for more information on each of these measures.

Grassland and sustainable soil fertility

Grassland management has been a huge focus for the Starrett family, particularly since Richard took over management of the farm. It has been a key element of driving stock performance and milk quality on the farm. Grass growth is managed in a paddock grazing system. Grass is measured weekly. In high growth periods the paddocks ahead of the cows are measured mid-week to ensure that cows are entering paddocks at the target pre grazing height. A grass wedge is produced on PastureBase and Richard finds the PastureBase app particularly useful in the day to day management of grass. See full factsheet for full details on grass measuring, sub-soiling and reseeding methods carried out by Richard.

Animal Health, calf rearing and animal welfare

There has always been a strong focus on animal health and welfare on the Starrett farm. This starts with suitable animal housing and infrastructure. Good ventilation, natural light and clean cubicle beds are key to promoting good health and cow comfort. Sufficient space in collecting yards, exit yards and in housing also adds to cow comfort and welfare. Combining these factors all help to promote longevity in the herd and the average lactation number of all the cows in the herd is currently 4 with the replacement rate at 14%. Calves have access to outdoors from birth, weather permitting. Read the full factsheet to see Richard's Animal Health plan.


Richard and Wendy both work full time on the farm and David is their full time employed farm worker. Richard always emphasises the point that good labour is a vital element in the success of the farm and he is very lucky to have good labour input. Richard also employs casual relief milkers every second weekend. In the spring, Richard engages an agricultural college student seeking professional work experience. Often these students prove to be an excellent asset to the system, particularly in the busy spring period, and they sometimes return as relief milkers after their work experience is finished. The children help out on the farm also. Contractors play a key role in the farm. Richard’s brother George Starrett is the contract heifer rearer for the farm. Read the fact sheet for more

Herd breeding and performance

When Richard took over the running of the farm, he was a member of a Teagasc discussion group facilitated by then local adviser Seamus Culhane. There was a strong emphasis on EBI and breeding within this group. This has had a long-lasting effect on the quality of genetics and success of breeding in the Starrett herd. Richard attributes his farm’s success to his breeding strategy and focus on genetic merit over the years. Richard uses the ICBF Sire Advice tool to help select sires for the herd each year. See the full Fact sheet to view The Sire Advice tool summary and the table outlining his current herd EBI.

Expansion and quality milk production

The following table details the annual milk volume and composition for the Starrett farm between 2014 and 2020.Milk solids produced per cow has increased by 161 kg per cow over the period. This was achieved through a range of factors including quota abolition, improved genetics, grassland management and targeted inputs of concentrates/bales in poor weather conditions.

2014 5391 433 4.18 3.62 4.85 136 14
2015 5692 476 4.35 3.77 4.86 104  15
2016 5808 493 4.46 3.77 4.85 109 14
2017 6031 506 4.35 3.8 4.87 149 14
2018 6574 557 4.41 3.82 4.79 135 9
2019 6513 564 4.41 3.9 4.75 129 9
2020 6837 594 4.52 3.92 4.74 134  8
2021 YTD              

Cows were milk recorded five times in 2020. This is an excellent measure to aid in identifying cows suitable for selective dry cow therapy, removal of cows from the bulk tank and culling.

Technology on the farm

Richard has installed a number of technologies in the milking parlour including

  • ACRs
  • backing gates with a bell indicator as it moves
  • a camera in the pit that allows him to keep an eye on the dairy whilst milking in case of a tank overflow or milk leakage
  • a recently installed cluster flush system that automatically cleans and disinfects each cluster between individual cow milkings

Richard uses a backlatch on the paddock gates, an automatic calf feeder to rear his calves and has adopted the MOO monitor’s technology for his cows to record fertility and herd health. The monitors are connected to his Kingswood package on his phone and laptop. Richard also uses PastureBase as his grassland measurement and management tool. See full factsheet for details

View the full factsheet about the Starrett Family Dairy Farm here 

The virtual event will be moderated by QMA Judge Jack Kennedy of the Irish Farmer’s Journal and will take place at 11am on Tuesday 29th June live from the Starrett farm.

You won't want to miss this event!!

Read more about the NDC & Kerrygold Quality Milk Awards here