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Shane O'Loughlin - Teagasc Glanbia Monitor Farmer

27 September 2018
Type Media Article


APPRECIATING & EXPANDING DAIRY FARMING STANDARDS AT HOME

Shane O’Loughlin’s family have been farming at Oghill, Monasterevin, Co Kildare since 1953 when his grandfather bought the farm.   His parents, Dermot and Angela, continued the family farm and in the 1960’s when a local co-op started up on Monasterevin, they started supplying milk. 

The contrast is significant. Shane’s father remembers working with no electrical supply and needing six lads to milk 20 cows by hand.  Shane’s expanded dairy herd of 200 cows can now be milked at peak time in two hours by one person.

Shane has a lot of respect for his father’s experience.   The family farm started with tillage, evolving to sheep and some beef but has been focused entirely on dairy for about 20-25 years.

Shane completed a degree in Animal Crop Production in UCD, travelled for a year and came home to farm in 2005.  He took over the running of the farm in 2011.

‘My father was delighted to see me taking over the growing amount of paperwork !  He is a great believer in doing things right, saying if you do it right you won’t have to come back to it again, so it saves you time in the end.’

Shane says his father was always very open minded, supporting Shane when he wanted to try new ideas on the farm.  ‘He really believed in giving the younger generation a chance and was very encouraging,’ says Shane.  ‘If any of my kids want to get involved on the farm, I hope I can do the same.’  Shane, who is married to Judith, has three children – Hugh (6), Tom (4) and Emma (18 months).

APPRECIATING WHAT WE DO RIGHT

When he graduated, Shane was awarded the Stephen Cullinan scholarship which allowed him to experience working on different types of dairy farms in Canada, New Zealand and America.  ‘It was a super opportunity to see the different systems.  The cows are in all year round in Canada and out all year round in New Zealand.   Some of the scale was simply huge, with some New Zealand herds having 1,200 cows.’ 

‘It was great to see how much you could do with grass but in other areas, like treacability and environment, we are so far ahead.  It made me appreciate how good it was done at home and I wouldn’t swop Ireland for any of it.’

MONITOR FARM PROGRAMME

Shane supplies both liquid and manufacturing milk to Glanbia.  In 2014 he was asked would he take part in the Teagasc Glanbia Monitor Farm Programme, which set out to help dairy farmers promote sustainable growth post-quotas.  Collectively they put together a plan for the farm.

‘It’s been a great experience for me,’ says Shane. ‘There’s no doubt I have to put the work into it. But I get a lot out of it.  It’s given me great information, helped me to focus and there are always people on the other end of the phone for support’.   There are 11 farmers in the Teagasc Glanbia programme in different parts of the country who at this stage share a whatsapp group and are in regular contact with each other. ‘It’s been a great sounding board and type of discussion group in its own right.’

EXPERT ADVICE SUPPORTING IMPROVEMENTS

Shane’s farm is 100 hectares with 60 hectare grazing block.  The original plan in 2015 was to expand to 240 cows, but it was kept under constant review and the decision was made to adjust closer to 200.   He currently has 210 cows up from 160 in 2014 and has 65 replacements.

The herd was traditionally Holstein Friesian but Shane has been working on breeding a more commercial cow, a bit hardier and also a bit easier to work with.  He has been getting Sire advice and using ICBF to pick bulls with the highest EBI.

He draws on and listens to specialist advice, working with his local vet, the Glanbia vet and also takes part in a UCD Kildare Herd Health Group, which contributes to scanning and fertility advice.  ‘They bring students down and weigh calves to feed in to their research, but we get invaluable advice from them at the same time.’  Shane also has a proactive vaccination programme in place.

The work including weighing heifers and synchronizing heifers means that 95% of heifers are now calving at 22-26 months which is an improvement on 68% three years previously.  Six week calving rate has also increased from 61% to 83% in the same period

Average milk yield has increased from 6,088 litres per cow to 6,160 and Shane has seen average milk solids per cow increase from 476 Kg in 2014 to 495 Kg in 2017.  If you look at the improvements in milk solids per dairy hectare they have gone up from 1,121 in 2014 to 1,528 in 2017.

MEASURED INVESTMENT

Shane has invested €168,500 on infrastructure between 2015-2017.  €25,000 went in to new loose calf shed.  €8,500 was put in to the milking parlour upgrading it and putting in two extra units so it is now a 12 unit double up.  There has also been investment in roadways and water. The biggest investment was in slatted tank, which cost €100,000.

Since joining the Monitor Farm Programme Shane is using cost control planning to help to manage his finances and working to a six year plan which is reviewed every year.

 ‘The programme also gives you a spur on for things like measuring grass. I really appreciate that it has to be done regularly and these practices need to be kept up.’

Shane has reseeded  very little in the last seven years and aims to reseed 10% each year into the future.  In 2017 the milking platform stocking rate was 3.09 (Lu/Ha) and Shane was achieving 15.7 Kg DM/hectare grass growth up from 13Kg DM/hectare in 2015.  His aim is to maximise his resources and grow 16 tonnes of grass DM/hectare.

He has also improved soil fertility with pH >6.3 at 100% in 2017 up from 95% in 2015.  P Index 3/4 was up to 70% in 2017 from 50% in 2015; and K index 3/4 held steady at 25%.

SIMPLE CHANGES MAKE BETTER USE OF TIME

Shane says that one of the biggest things he has learned from the Monitor Farm Programme is to look at how he does things to see if it can be improved to manage his time in a better way.

Changes to paddocks mean he is now getting four days grazing rather than having 24 hour paddocks.  There is much less time involved as he is not switching every day.  

Putting a hole in a wall near the parlour and moving calving cows up closer has saved him from spending half an hour every day in the busy calving season moving them up the yard.  It all adds up.

‘Sometimes I might not start milking until 4.00pm or 5.00pm, but now I’m stricter about starting by 3.00pm every day so that I’m finished by 5.30pm every evening. This means I have time in the evenings to spend with my family and do other things.’

‘Some relatively simple changes were able to save me a lot of time every day – and that’s very valuable to me’ says Shane. 

Shane has signed up to start a Teagasc Business Management course.  ‘You can get lost in the everyday work of farming sometimes but it’s important to get out and learn new skills.’

Finishing on the farm at a reasonable time also means he can play football himself.  ‘We have a big family tradition in GAA as well as farming,’ explains Shane. 

His grandfather won All Ireland medals from 1927 and 1928 – the last time Kildare won an All Ireland. His father won a Leinster medal in 1956. ‘Maybe it skipped a generation!’ laughs Shane, who keenly supports his children at matches and training, with an enthusiastic eye on the next generation.