Seamus Howard farms 55.4Ha (137acres) of utilisable land on the edge of the Burren in Kilnaboy, Co. Clare. Seamus’ late father, James, was one of the first organic farmers in the country having commenced organic farming in 1985 supplying milk and cheese from his 16 cows to the shops and restaurants of the Aillwee caves. When Glenisk started processing organic milk in the mid-nineties, James Howard became one of their first suppliers and Seamus continues to supply milk to them to this day.
James ran a mixed dairy, drystock and sheep farm and always kept a few sheep for weed control. Seamus now intends to focus more on dairying. All calves were previously reared on farm to finishing, but Seamus now has plans to increase the dairy enterprise and intends selling the drystock at a younger age.
This farm was traditionally in winter milk, supplying milk on a year round basis, but Seamus has switched to a spring calving system and since January 2021 is supplying Glenisk with 100% grassfed milk for their grassfed yoghurt.
Another change that is happening on this farm is that the breed type is changing. Due to lack of availability of high EBI organic cows in Ireland, Seamus imported 14 Fleckviehs from Austria in Jan 2021, allowing him to milk 23 cows in 2021. In October 2021, he sold 10 of the remaining Autumn calvers to another organic dairy farmer. Seamus intends to import another 35 – 40 “Pro-cross” cows from Denmark later in the next 2 months, increasing his herd to 50cows for 2022.
Land Farmed 2021
The gross area on this farm is 106Ha, but because much of this farm consists of limestone pavement, the utilisable area is much lower. Of the 55.4Ha forage area farmed, 12.9Ha are contained within the Burren winterages and are only used for wintering cattle. The milking platform comprises of 38.46Ha.
The Dairy Herd
With the aim of increasing the herd to 50 cows in 2022, the first challenge Seamus faced was sourcing suitable stock. Seamus’ ideal cow is a cow with good temperament, good feet, is fertile, is easy care and will deliver good volumes of milk from a 100% grass based diet.
Having looked at what was available within the country, Seamus decided that importing cows afforded him a much larger selection and with this in mind he contacted David Clarke of www.cows.ie to see what was available in continental Europe. 14 fully organic pure bred Fleckviehs arrived in January 2021 and Seamus hopes to import 35 – 40 Pro-cross cows within the next 2 months. A pro-cross cow is a 3 way cross between a Norwegian Red x Holstein x Montbelliarde.
As the system of production has changed on this farm to supplying 100% grass fed milk, Seamus wants a cow that can deliver 5,000 – 6,000litres/cow from a grass/silage only diet. Having imported the base herd of Fleckvieh and Pro-cross cows, the intention is now to breed these cows to high EBI cows and to maintain the 3 cross element of this herd to take full advantage of hybrid vigour.
Seamus intends breeding all his replacements from AI and will then run a beef breed stock bull with the cows. Beef bred calves will be reared to 6 weeks of age before selling. Of the purebred Fleckvieh cows that were purchased in early 2021, 5 of them calved down with purebred bull calves. These will be reared to sell as stockbulls.
Howard’s Production System
Currently the herd is a spring calving herd supplying Glenisk with 100% grass fed milk. The rules around 100% grass fed milk are quite restrictive in that only feed sources derived from forages can be fed to the cows on the farm. These forages include; grazed grass, grass silage, red clover silage, hay, and Lucerne.
Lucerne (also known as Alfalfa) is a forage crop that is typically saved as hay or converted into pellets. It is high in protein, typically 14 – 16% and can be good complement to silage. Currently Lucerne costs approximately €400/tonne and is mostly imported from Italy and Spain.
Producing milk from a 100% grass based diet can present some challenges, particularly in early lactation when cows may enter a period of negative energy balance. Milking once a day during this period is one of the primary tools available to prevent cows losing excessive body condition during this period.
A dual purpose breed may also suit a 100% grass fed system as they are less likely to lose excessive body condition. A breed that can maintain body condition while not overly compensating on milk output is ideally suited to 100% grass fed system.
As grass and silage form the vast majority of the diet (along with some Lucerne) in this system, a high level of grass land management and the preservation of high quality silage are critical on a grass fed farm to maintain output.
Milk Production Details 2021
As the majority of the herd were first calvers in 2021, Seamus is hoping to produce 6,000litres/cow once the herd matures. For calves to retain their organic status, they must receive maternal milk for the first 90 days of their life. The feeding of milk replacers are only allowed where whole milk is not available. See extract from organic standards below;
3.10.09 (848.II.II.1.4.1(g)) With regard to nutrition, the following rules shall apply: suckling animals shall preferably be fed on maternal milk for a minimum period laid down by the Commission in accordance with point (a) of Article 14(3); milk replacers containing chemically synthesised components or components of plant origin shall not be used during that period;
3.10.12 Where maternal milk is not available, organic colostrum may be fed.
3.14.04 (2020/464.2) The minimum period referred to in paragraph 3.10.09 for feeding suckling animals preferably with maternal milk shall be: (a) 90 days after birth for bovine animals and equine animals; (b) 45 days after birth for ovine animals and caprine animals.
Overview of Irish Organic Dairy Sector
At the end of 2021 there were 62 fully organic dairy farmers in Ireland with a further 11 farmers due to finish their conversion period during 2022. The are 5 processors of organic milk; Arrabawn, Aurivo, Glenisk, The Little Milk Company and The Village Dairy.
While the number of organic dairy farmers is small, there is wide variety of production systems including;
- Once a day spring calving – these herds supply Glenisk (Grass fed) or The Little Milk Company. Calving typically commences in mid-February and cows are typically dried off in November. Modest levels of feed inputs are fed
- 100% Grass fed – These farmers sell their milk to Glenisk for their 100% grass fed yoghurt market. Cows may be supplemented with Lucerne pellets at the shoulders of the lactation but grass and silage makes up the majority of the diet.
- Twice a day spring calving – These herds supply milk to the Little Milk Company and typically use approximately 500kgs of organic feed per cow. Their milk is converted to cheese.
- Autumn Calving – These are the largest cohort of organic dairy farmers supplying Arrabawn, Aurivo, Glenisk and The Village dairy. These processors require milk to be supplied on a continuous basis and prefer a flat supply curve. This milk is typically sold as bottled milk or yoghurt. Concentrate feed typically exceeds 1ton/cow, some of which may be home-grown feed.
Growing Grass on an Organic Dairy Farm
- The aim is to maximise the amount of quality grass-clover swards fed and to minimise the amount of concentrates purchased.
- White clover can fix up to 200kgs of atmospheric Nitrogen per year, red clover can fix up to 300kgs per year.
- To help achieve this, re-seeding using grass mixes which include either white or red clover is carried out on this holding annually.
2021 seeding programme on the Howard Farm
Organic Regulation for Seed Usage
- Must seek permission to use un-treated non-organic seed from your Organic Certification Body (OCB).
- This permission must be granted by the OCB before purchasing this un -treated non-organic seed.
- Conventional treated seed is not permitted to be used.
- 14 acres of the grazing platform receive payment under the Burren Programme. As this is a results based project, each field is given an individual management plan to try maintain or increase the biodiversity of these paddocks. One of the key management requirements is that paddocks are grazed late into the winter but not grazed until early May the following spring to allow the various plant species go to flower. Because of this, Seamus typically delays turnout until late March.
- Cows are grazed on a 25 - 30 day rotation, targeting covers of 1500 – 1800kgs dry matter per hectare.
- Seamus does not like to graze too bare as he feels if he strips too many leaves off the clover, he could set it back
- A new slurry tank has been constructed this winter. Seamus hopes that this will allow him have additional slurry to target at grazing fields.
- The are two distinct areas on this farm, the paddocks that are within the Burren Programme and the remaining grassland paddocks. Both areas are managed quite differently. The areas within the Burren programme are managed to try create as much plant diversity as possible in these paddocks. The remaining paddocks are managed in a way that maximizes their production.
- On the productive paddocks, Seamus believes that topping is one of the most important jobs on the farm
- Seamus tops all productive paddocks at least once in the year and some paddocks may be topped a second time of required
- Seamus’ grandfather had a rhyme that he used to follow when it came to weed control on the farm
“Cut in May and they will stay
Cut in June – is still too soon
Cut in July and they will die”
Silage Production 2021
- There is 30 acres of ground that is dedicated to silage on this farm. This ground is cut twice
- Surplus paddocks are also cut. This resulted in approximately 1,000 bales being cut on this farm in 2021.
- The red clover silage fields were grazed in early spring, cut in early June and again in late July and then grazed a further 2 times in the Autumn.
- All slurry is applied to the silage ground.
- Under organic regulations: At least 60% of the dry matter in daily rations of herbivores shall consist of roughage, fresh or dried fodder or silage. A reduction to 50% for animals in dairy production for a maximum period three months in early lactation is allowed.
- A healthy herd in organic farming is achieved by a combination of good management, sound nutrition and good animal husbandry skills.
- When a farm undergoes conversion to organic status an Animal Health Plan is required to be drawn up by the veterinary practitioner, who specifies the current animal health issues on the farm and how the farmer will tackle these problems into the future, while conforming to the requirements of organic certification standards.
- Detection of problems needs to be early, and timely veterinary advice is invaluable – when an animal is ill the organic farmer reacts in the same manner as their conventional neighbour and veterinary assistance is required immediately
Conventional Veterinary Treatments Permitted
- Animals for meat consumption: 1 course antibiotics within 12 months.
- Animals for breeding: 2 courses antibiotics within 12 months.
- Dairy Mastitis: 2 courses antibiotics within 12 months, otherwise the cow is removed from the milking herd.
- If limits exceeded, organic status is taken away from animal.
Withdrawal Periods for use of Veterinary Products
- All withdrawal periods shall be doubled and shall not be less than;
- 14 days for milk
- 56 days for meat from poultry and mammals including fat and offal
Restricted Veterinary Practices
Procedures for which derogation must be sought:
- Tail docking/use of rubber rings for lambs
- Prior approval is required from your Organic Certification Body before any of these practices are undertaken.
- To avoid suffering to the animal adequate anaesthesia and/or analgesia must be administered in all cases.
Organic Animal Housing Standards
- Adjustments to meet organic standards may be necessary – depends on farm situation.
- Housing is not compulsory.
- At least 50% of floor area must be bedded.
- Straw, rushes or untreated wood shavings are acceptable bedding materials and these need not be organic.
- All animal housing is subject to inspection and approval by the Organic Certification Body.
- See Table 8 for organic space requirements.
- Cubicles are permitted if they are of optimum size for the animals on the holding. At least 3m2 per individual animal must be allowed for dairy cows.
- Cubicles must be clean and dry and bedded at all times.
Capital costs on the Howard farm
- The Howard farm is undergoing a major expansion phase, increasing from 16 cows to 50 cows. Construction has just finished on a new cubicle house, robotic milking system, drafting systems, slatted tanks, dairy, bulk tank and calving pen at a net cost of €250,000.
- The purchase of the cows will cost approximately a net cost of €100,000 when the sale of existing cows is taken into account.
- To access part of the milking platform, a new underpass will be required to be installed in 2022 at a proposed cost of €30,000.
- Access to the low interest SBCI loan scheme has helped fund the capital expenditure on this farm.
Financial Projections - 2022
- Inventory changes in stock numbers have not been included due to major purchase of dairy stock planned for 2022
- Feed costs are based on cows receiving 5kgs Lucerne/head at €400 per ton for first 50 days of lactation and 2kgs for last 50 days of lactation (total of 350kgs/cow)
- 2 tonne of ground rock phosphate and 2 tonne of Patent Kali purchased at €1,000/ton
- BPS, ANC, OFS, Burren Life payments and Eco scheme payments are not included above.
The Burren Programme
Arising from the success of the BurrenLIFE project, the Burren Farming for Conservation Programme (BFCP) was launched in 2010 by its funders, the Dept. of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the NPWS of the Dept. of Arts Heritage and the Gaeltacht. The BFCP ran from 2010 to 2015. It worked with 160 farmers on 15,000ha of prime Burren habitat. It built directly on the lessons learned during BurrenLIFE and worked in a very creative way to support and incentivise farmers to maintain and enhance the habitats of the Burren, effectively tackling many of the issues identified in the original research project over a decade previously.
The Burren Programme, started in 2016 with 200 farmers, and has now grown to 328 farmers, is a natural progression of the BFCP and will continue to work closely with farmers, advisors and the EU, DAFM and NPWS to implement solutions to help manage and protect the Burren. Seamus Howard is one of the farmers participating in the Burren Programme.
Soil Nutrients and Manure Management
- The aim of organic farming is to maintain soil fertility levels by efficient recycling of farmyard manure, slurry and or compost that is normally generated on the farm.
- Management of organic farms should ensure regular inputs of manures and a level of microbial and earthworm activity sufficient to breakdown organic matter and ensure continuous and efficient nutrient cycling.
- Keeping soils at a pH that facilitates organic matter breakdown and nutrient recycling is essential for successful organic farming.
- The required tonnage of grass grown per hectare is typically lower on an organic farm (due to lower stocking rates) as is the offtake of nutrients. Therefore a soil index of 2 for Phosphorus and Potassium is deemed sufficient.
- The table below outlines the soil fertility on this farm.
Sources of Nutrients on the Farm
- Nitrogen from atmospheric fixation by clover.
- Slurry from over wintering of animals indoors.
- Farmyard manure (FYM) from the straw bedding used over-wintering the animals. Approximately 20 bales of straw are used annually.
- Organic concentrate feed ~350kgs/cow ~5kg P/tonne concentrate usage.
- Purchased ground rock phosphate and approved Potassium products
Where & When are Nutrients Spread
- FYM & Dairy Sludge is spread in autumn on tillage ground and also prior to ploughing at re-seeding. The use of a straw chopper and turning FYM a number of times reduces the bulk of material and ensure ease of spreading.
- Slurry is generally spread early in the growing season to maximise use of its nitrogen content and help promote early grass growth.
- Dairy and collecting yard washings are spread on grazing paddocks throughout the year.
Available Nutrient Content & Guide Value (€) of Organic Manures
Sources of Organic Manures that are permitted to be imported onto Organic Farms
- Imported farmyard manure or slurry must come from stock that have been outside during the year, not from intensive pig and poultry units where animals are inside all the time or from zero grazing farming systems. Farm yard manure must be composted for at least 3 months before it can be land spread.
- Dairy processing sludge is available from some dairy processors who have sludge registered with an Organic Certification Body.
- May look at expanding herd to 60 cows. This would involve the construction of a second underpass
- May consider reverting to supplying milk on a 12 month basis
- Looking into developing on farm walking tours
- Enjoy a better work life balance
Organic Farming Scheme (OFS)
The Organic Farming scheme opened on February 9th 2022 for new applications and it will close on April 8th 2022.
There are two new rule changes introduced for the 2022 scheme;
- Full OFS payment increased from 60ha to 70ha
- Reduction in Stocking Density to receive full payment – 0.5 LU/Ha to 0.15 LU/Ha
Payment Rates for Livestock Farmers
How to apply
- Contact one of the Organic certification bodies to get licenced as an organic producer
- Submit online application via Agfood before April 8th 2022
- Make changes to your BPS application before May 16th 2022
- Complete 25 hour QQI approved Organic Farming Principles course before November 1st 2022
A major factor that distinguishes organic farming from other approaches to sustainable farming is the existence of internationally acknowledged standards and certification procedures. The standards for organic production within the European Union are defined and enshrined in law by Council Regulation EC 834/2007 as amended.
In Ireland the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine is the competent authority (i.e. - the Department’s Organic Unit is based at Johnstown Castle Estate Wexford) for regulating the organic sector and ensuring that the obligations and requirements of Council Regulation (EC) No. 834/2007 as amended and adhered to.
The Organic Unit of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine have designated Official Certification Bodies whose role is to certify organic producers, farmers and processors through and inspection process of each individual’s unit or farm. Further information can be sourced from these organic certification bodies:
Targeted Agricultural Modernisation Scheme Organic Capital Investment Scheme (OCIS)
On Farm Scheme
A standard rate of aid of 40% on investments up to a ceiling of €80,000 (i.e. can generate a grant of €32,000 from an investment of €80,000). For qualifying young organic farmers who meet the specific eligibility criteria, the standard rate of aid is 60% on investments up to a ceiling of €80,000.
How to Apply and Closing Date:
Online applications only through www.agfood.ie facility.
DAFM Organic Unit, Johnstown Castle: (053) 91 63400
Organic Processing Scheme
Grant aid of up to 40% on €1.75 million (i.e. can generate a grant of €700,000 for an investment of €1.75 million) in facilities for the processing, preparation, grading, packing and storage of organic products with minimum level of investment in excess of €3,000.
DAFM Organic Unit, Johnstown Castle: (053) 91 63400