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Every Blade of Grass Crucial on Small Farm Holding

03 September 2018
Type Media Article

In the heart of the Boyne Valley, Peter Mongey’s dairy farm is about three miles from Slane Castle at Stackallen, Co. Meath. The Mongey family have been farming the land since the early 1700’s when Peter’s ancestors settled in Ireland from France after the Battle of the Boyne. Farm walk - Friday, 14 September, 11am

Peter’s father ran the farm from about 12 years of age because his own father died quite young.  Peter’s parents, Larry and Carmel, ran a mixed farm with a few cows, cattle, sheep, pigs, hens and a working horse - but with only 15 hectares the farm was always restricted by size.    Larry worked off-farm selling haysheds, driving a school bus and was one of the first in the area to have a combine, so he went ‘combining’ as well.  Still active in his early 80’s, Larry was very progressive throughout his life and had a big work ethic.  

Peter studied at Warrenstown Agricultural College graduating in 1991.   He worked on the farm with his father and they intensified and focused on dairy.  As the farm was still only 15 hectares Peter also worked off-farm in the building sector. He got his Green Cert in 1993.

Peter believes he picked up his work ethic from his father, his attention to detail and utilisation of grass.  ‘It was about efficiency before scale and getting the best out of what we already had.’

‘Every blade of grass is crucial when your farm is a small holding,’ says Peter. ‘Nothing that could be used is ever put aside or wasted.’


In 2007 Peter took over the running of the farm but he says that the impact of the economic downturn on the building sector and off-farm work also forced his hand.    ‘I felt I had to make a choice, to either make the farm work more viably, or stand aside.’

Five years ago two blocks of land came up for sale beside the farm.  ‘I was lucky it was at the right time, as quotas were finishing up. Our original quota was based on having a herd of 30-35 cows, so when the shackles of quota came off we were able to drive on a bit more.’

Peter expanded the farm to 42 hectares and his milking platform from ten hectares to 29 hectares. He started building the herd from inside, without purchasing stock.


Supplying milk to Glanbia, Peter was asked in October 2014 would he consider taking part in the Teagasc Glanbia Monitor Farm Programme, an initiative to help dairy farmers promote sustainable growth post-quotas.  

‘Being part of the Monitor Farm Programme has made a huge difference.  It has moved the farm up to the next level and supported the expansion of the farm over the last five years,’ says Peter.  ‘I pay much more attention detail and to the management of the farm,’ says Peter.

‘It follows very naturally from my father’s belief of getting the most out of what we have – we are getting every acre we have, to grow as much grass as we can, along with other improvements in areas like calving patterns or soil fertility.’


By 2014 Peter had grown the herd to 79 and he increased by a further 30 cows to 109 cows since starting in the Monitor Farm Programme.   He says it is the maximum for his size of farm and was only made possible because of his move to contract rearing in 2015.

‘Contract rearing has been excellent for this farm. It allowed me to make the most of what we have around us – the platform is stocked with profitable animals – milking cows – but would not have space for younger stock on this land unless I reduced the size of the herd again.’  Peter is delighted to have found a super contract rearer who is a former dairy farmer and understands exactly what Peter needs. 

Young stock go off at about 12 weeks and come back about a month before calving at around 23 months.  Peter is managing less groups of heifers and it frees up more of his time to focus on the milking herd.    The six week calving rate has improved from 57 in 2014 to 78 in 2017 with 95% of the heifers calving at 22-26 months.

The herd was originally Holstein Friesian.  Peter is now using EBI to breed a more suitable cow with a strong focus on fertility and higher milk solids.

Peter works closely with his own vet and also had input from Glanbia’ vet during the course of the programme.  It has been a big help herd health planning and planning a good dosing and vaccination regime.


Peter is aiming to hold milk yield but bring milk solids up.    Average milk yield increased from 5,514 litres per cow in 2014 to 6,031 in 2017.    Peter has seen average milk solids per cow increase from 418 Kg in 2014 to 457 Kg in 2017.  Improvements in milk solids per dairy hectare have gone up from 1,140 in 2014 to 1,587 in 2017

‘There is still huge potential with milk solids.  I had a small liquid milk contract with Glanbia and the rest is manufacturing.  I am in the process of moving the Autumn calving cows around to Spring calving, which diluted figures over the past three years.’ 2018 will be his first year with no Autumn calving in the herd and Peter expects milk solids to be at 500 Kg per cow in 2018 as calving patterns stabilise.


Peter has invested carefully in the infrastructure to support the expanded dairy herd. ‘Our first priority was to pay for the land so we had to make the most of what we had initially.’

In 2013 he built extra accommodation for cows and in 2014 expanded the milking parlour to an 11 unit Dairymaster herringbone in an existing building.  Further investments have been designed to improve efficiency and reduce the demand on labour.  These include the auto wash with dump line, upgraded cluster removers, new meal bins and electronic feeding system, air gates and a drafting unit went in last Winter. The new auger self-feeding system also reduces the manual work and time involved in milking. 

‘I need the system to be as efficient as possible so I can spend the least amount of time doing manual things.  I’m aiming to be able to run the farm as a one man show,’ says Peter. The exception to this has been the last two Springs, when Peter has had support from an agricultural student and a relief milker in February/early March to relieve pressure at a very busy time.

Peter needed a new bulk tank to cope with the increased volume of milk and also invested in a new silage pit. He has also improved internal road structures, water piping and water troughs.

Peter’s overall investment has been €124,500 since 2015 and he says that the Profit Monitor and financial planning within the Monitor Farm programme has definitely helped.  ‘I wasn’t keeping an eye on cash flow in the past the way I am now.  In the past it was all done on paper.  Now I see a great benefit from seeing the monthly cash flow on the excel spreadsheet and being able to compare it back.’      Peter hopes to do a Teagasc and UCD course in strategic business planning later this Autumn.

The overall net profit per cow has more than trebled in three years, increasing from €1,228 in 2014 to 2017 in €3,770 – whilst total costs have reduced in that same time.  Peter attributes this to the expanded herd operating more efficiently with the same land, labour and resources.


Peter was a finalist in the Teagasc Grassland of the Year competition in 2017.    A big learning from having a small holding which is heavily stocked is the importance of good soil fertility and being able to grow the extra grass you need. 

Peter has been measuring grass for eleven years now.  He links up with two neighbours and they measure their land together.  They originally did this with pen and paper.  Peter is now using the Agrinet package.  ‘It brings things to the next level.  It shows you the surplus or deficit straight up so you can make quicker and more confident decisions about when to take out paddocks and make silage.’

The farm is now properly mapped with paddock sizes increased and more access points. This has helped to improve the use of grass.  Peter has re-seeded 76% of his land in the last seven years and is aiming to re-seed 15% each year.

In 2017 stocking rate was 3.48 (Lu/Ha).  Peter was achieving 17.5 Kg DM/hectare grass growth up from 13.5 Kg DM/hectare in 2015.  

Buying the two new blocks of land was an important investment but the soil fertility in the new blocks was very low.  Peter has done a lot of work to bring the soil levels up to same standard as the rest of the land. ‘It is a work in progress and still more to do but the Ph was fairly quick to bring up.’

Peter soil tests every two years.  In 2017 soil fertility with Ph >6.3 was at 100%.    P Index 3/4 was up to 70% in 2017 from 50% in 2015; and K index 3/4 was at 60% in 2017 from 40% in 2015. 

In the past Peter was involved with the REPs scheme and actively planted trees and managed hedgerows around the farm to support natural habitats.   Water courses were fenced off and bird boxes and bat boxes were put up around the farmland. 

‘Doing things in a sustainable way is important.  I’m big into it,’ says Peter.  He is married to Raquel who is from Valentia in Spain and they have two children, Hannah (11) and Nathan (8).      Raquel works off the farm and life is busy with a young family.  ‘I want to hand on this farm in a good condition – both environmentally and financially.  I also want to keep things simple because it needs to be enjoyable. Farming needs to be something you want to do.’