Seamus Ahern returned to the family farm last May after completing a Level-6 Advanced Certificate in Dairy Herd Management at Kildalton Agricultural College.
The 22-year-old runs a certified organic dairy herd of Jersey cows in partnership with his parents – Dan and Anne; they also farm turkeys and laying hens.
The Aherns have been farming organically in Ballysimon, Midleton, Co. Cork since 1999; prior to this, Seamus’ grandfather owned a holding in close proximity to Cork City.
The family ran a calf-to-beef system up until Autumn 2014 when they imported a consignment of 84 in-calve Jersey heifers from Denmark and the U.K.
The Angus herd was dispersed and the farm is now home to 127 Jersey cows which are managed under a split-calving grass-based system.
“We opted for the Jersey breed mainly because of kgs of solids. They are good converters of forage to milk and calving is trouble-free for us.” Seamus told Catherina Cunnane - That’s Farming.
“Jersey cows are a lot smaller and are easy to feed; they consume less feed than their dairy counterparts.”
“We are aiming for a 420 kg cow that will produce 500kgs of milk solids within the next two years.” he outlined.
According to the last recording, it has been predicted that cows will produce an average of 4,500-litres and approximately 430kgs of milk solids on the East Cork enterprise this year.
The winter herd are being fed 800-900kgs of concentrates, while the spring-calvers are receiving 400-500kgs.
10% of the farm’s total annual milk production is sold as unpasteurised raw milk at local farmer’s markets in Midleton and Mahon Point; eggs are also sold from the flock of laying hens.
400 day-one organic bronze turkeys will arrive on the Cork holding over the next number of weeks and will remain there until Christmas.
A selection of heifers from superior cow families are retained, while bull calves change hands when they reach ten days of age.
Superior Jersey cows are inseminated to Jersey sires, while the remaining cows are put in-calve to AI Hereford and Aubrac bulls. “We are using all A.I.; it’s easy to match your cows to suitable bulls when using A.I.”
“We are working with Munster Bovine at the moment and are satisfied with their bull panels; we order sires at the beginning of every year.”
Genetics and efficient grassland management practices are the farm’s driving forces. Grass is measured weekly; swards consist of diploid and tetraploid grasses and have a high clover content; its nitrogen-fixing properties are paramount as the Aherns do not spread fertiliser.
“We would have a much higher percentage of clover in our swards than most farms - that’s the key for us.”
Being stocked at just over two livestock units per hectare, allows the Cork trio to grow just over 10t of dry matter (DM)/ha; farming organically allows the family to “grow grass in a sustainable way.”
“Last year, in general, was very challenging because of drought conditions. Clover has a deep taproot so it helped us to overcome this difficulty.”
“2018 was a good year to start farming on a full-time basis as it was a real eye-opener.”
“My parents take a very progressive approach to farming; going into partnership is the first step in getting me deeply involved and giving me more responsibility.”
Looking ahead, the young farmer’s short-term goals include improving the farm’s grass growth and utilisation.
The Aherns aim to reach 500kgs of milk solids per cow within the next two years and are hoping to increase their herd size to 150 cows within the next half-a-decade.
“Some people have an issue with the expansion of dairy herds; another income is needed now, unlike 2015 when it was just my parents farming here.”
“There is a big clampdown on environmental issues and stocking rates at present; that is a worry but at the same time, you have to be optimistic.
“It is an exciting time to be involved in agriculture but you have to be cautious as well,” he concluded.
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