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Clever Use of Time and Resources Supports Expansion on Cork Dairy Farm

16 August 2018
Type Media Article


Donal O’Reilly grew up on the family farm at Bishops Island, beside Watergrasshill village in Co. Cork.  When his parents Tadhg and Margaret ran the farm, had 60-70 cows, with all stock reared either as replacements or calf to beef animals.  

Donal O’Reilly is one of the dairy farmers participating in the Teagasc/Glanbia Joint Programme and on Friday, 31 August, all farmers will have the opportunity to visit the farm to learn what skills and knowledge he has gained from the programme to sustainably and profitably future proof his dairy farm business.

LEARNING SOMETHING NEW EVERY DAY

Donal is a progressive farmer who believes he is ‘learning something new every day.’   He feels it’s important to learn from the experiences of other farmers. 

Donal has always sourced valuable information from Discussion Groups, local farmers, and conferences. ‘Now, social media is also a useful problem solving network.  You can follow a conversation with farmers and see a solution play out in front of your eyes.’

Donal studied at Kildalton and completed a two year Dairy Diploma in Clonakilty before coming home to farm with his parents in 2002.  They formed a formal Milk Production Partnership in 2009. This allowed Donal to gradually take on more responsibility, while allowing Tadhg and Margaret to ease gently into retirement.

The dairy herd has now nearly tripled to 180 cows in 2018. It is an entirely dairy enterprise with a Spring calving herd supplying Glanbia Ireland.  

Donal joined the Teagasc & Glanbia Monitor Farm Programme in 2015.   ‘It helped me identify what can and needs to be achieved and to develop a plan for the farm,’ says Donal.    ‘I’m using time more efficiently and working towards a goal.  I have gained a lot from it.’

IMPROVEMENTS IN TIME AND PRODUCTIVITY

The decision to look for a contract rearer has been a good one.   Donal found a contract rearer nearby who runs a closed unit.   Donal keeps calves until about ten months. They move to the contractor around the start of December and return to Donal the following October or November when they are in calf.  

This frees up time Donal would have spent caring for those animals and breeding the maiden heifers.  ‘It makes a huge difference workwise. I can concentrate on the milking herd in that busy time and it has opened up land for more milking cows.’  

Breeding has improved.  ‘We kept as many heifers as we could in the past to build cow numbers.  Now we only keep calves from cows that held their first service.  We are breeding replacements from the proven cows.’

The herd is disease screening and Donal has a herd health plan. This includes sensitivity testing milk so he uses the right therapy when needed and he has a vaccination programme in place.   

SOIL QUALITY UNDER SCRUTINY

Donal believes years of limiting output because of quotas meant the potential of the land was not fully realised.   ‘When quotes were abolished we could stock more cows,’ he says. ‘This meant looking at soil quality.’ 

Donal did soil testing which showed that soil indexes and PH levels were poor.  He has worked hard to bring up the P&K indexes and has spread about three tonnes of lime per acre over the past three years for the entire milking block to correct PH levels, seeing a ‘massive improvement.’ P index 3/4 from 30% in 2015 to 60% in 2017.  K index 3/4 from 10% in 2015 to 80% in 2017 and Ph>6.3 was 5% in 2015, up to 90% in 2017.   Donal will be continuing soil testing every two years.

The overall farm is 74 hectares.  The milking platform is 56 hectares and 43% has been reseeded in the last four years.  Donal maintains that measuring grass is a very important tool.  ‘It’s all about knowing what you have,’   He is now measuring grass twice weekly at the height of the growing season and about forty times in a year.

INVESTMENT IN INFRASTRUCTURE

Investment in infrastructure was needed - cow roads and passages, grazing infrastructure like water troughs and improved water piping plus a new cow underpass. A new 20 unit parlour is designed to make the most efficient use of labour and is supported by a drafting system. 

In 2010, the farm had 60 cubicles, so housing needed to increase.  140 new cubicles now gives capacity for 200 cows, with a further 30 available in a converted beef shed.

FAMILY TIME IS IMPORTANT

Donal was able to employ someone full time on the farm in 2018 which he says, ‘is the final piece of the plan falling into place.’     Donal married Muireann, a primary school teacher, in 2014.   They have a young son, Aidan, who is two years old in October 2018.  ‘Keeping work practices as simple as possible is important, in order to free up time for family,’ maintains Donal.

His plan under the Monitor Farm Programme was by 2019 to have 200 milking cows, full time labour and all heifers contract reared.   He is well on target.