Springlough Farms in Knockbridge, Dundalk, Co. Louth is home to a 60-cow dairy herd.
The enterprise – which is steeped in family tradition - is owned and managed by 25-year-old Ciarán Mc Donnell and his father.
Ciarán’s grandfather moved from Scotland to Ireland at a young age to live with his uncle who farmed the land in the 1920s; the holding was later inherited by Ciarán’s father.
Ciarán and his father have a 16.55 ha milking platform while an additional 17.5 ha are utilised for silage production and rearing replacements.
As of spring 2018, the pedigree Holsteins cows are milked under a 100% spring-calving system; prior to this, the Louth-based farmers had a split-calving pattern - liquid milk was supplied to Glanbia.
As a direct result of the nature of liquid milk systems, they required a cow that produces a high volume of milk and has the ability to convert high levels of concentrates into milk.
“We still seek these qualities and like a cow with good type as well - the Holstein breed thick that box. Last summer, we were the overall winner in the spring section of the North-Eastern Holstein herd competition.”
The farmers will focus on adding fertility, fat and protein percentages through the utilisation of high-EBI sires going forward; however, they wish to maintain milk kg and type by using pedigree bulls.
Last year, cows produced 538kg of milk solids at 4.05% butterfat and 3.47% protein from a concentrate input of 1.2t/cow.
The farm has a 78% six-week calving rate and an average calving interval of 372 days. “Calving starts in mid-January and cows are turned out to grass soon after calving.”
“Calving is finished by the beginning of April. As our land is very dry, we can graze the herd from mid-January to late-November.”
Their ultimate goal is to run a high input/high output system, with a view to breeding a high-EBI herd with a good level of type that produces in excess of 600 kgs of milk solids from a concentrate input of 1.2-tons.
Undertaking further study in the agricultural field has increased the young farmer’s knowledge and has helped him adopt practices that make Springlough Farms more profitable and efficient.
The Louth native studied a Level-6 Higher Certificate in Agriculture in Ballyhaise/DkIT before transferring to University College Dublin (UCD) where he obtained a Level-8 in Agricultural Science – Animal Science in 2017.
“Like most of my peers, I thought about a career in veterinary but the high points requirement put me off the idea,” he admitted.
In January of this year, he began a Research Masters degree under the supervision of Dr. Bridget Lynch, Prof Karina Pierce and Prof Finbar Mulligan; he is nvestigating the potential of higher input-output systems of grass-based dairy production.
“My aim is the emulate the study I'm involved in with my research at UCD Lyons Farm on the high input/high-output system.”
The rationale for this research is that a high output grass-based spring milk production system can be profitable when built on a foundation of good grassland management and meeting both milk and fertility targets.
“The target in our system is to stock the milking platform with 60 cows on 17.65 ha of grassland (3.4 LU/ha) and an additional 7 ha for silage production giving the total stocking rate of 2.4 LU/ha.”
They intend to produce 625 kg of milk solids/cow from 7,500-8,000 kg of milk/cow with a diet consisting of approximately 3.6-tons DM (dry matter), 1.2-tons DM of grass silage and 1.3-tons DM of concentrates (1.5-tons fresh weight).
“We aim to have the same fertility targets as the low input systems of 75% of the cows in-calf within 6-weeks.” he outlined.
Looking ahead, Ciarán has his sight sets on a PhD once he completes his current degree programme; he hopes to continue working in dairy research.
“I can’t see my future in full-time farming - the margins farmers receive for the producers are appalling.” the current chairperson of Louth I.C.M.S.A stressed.
Well aware of current challenges, the 25-year-old’s short-goal is to make the family farm one of Ireland’s most progressive dairy enterprises. “I can’t help but wonder are farmers in this country and other countries around the world the only ones working to make the processors and supermarkets millionaires?”
“It seems that they are the only ones reaping the rewards from our hard work and dedication, working the land,” he stressed.
The Louth native is keen to offer advice to young farmers; “Don’t be in a hurry to go home farming straight after completing your degree - be it a Green Cert or higher education.”
“Go abroad for a few years to experience different farming practices and cultures.”
“You will be farming at home for most of your life - there’s no point wasting the best part of your life in the same old routine at home,” he concluded.
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