Eamon Sheehan, a Nuffield Scholar and dairy farmer from Co. Kilkenny, has been named the inaugural winner of the Prevention for Profit competition.
Initiated and run by MSD Animal Health, the competition is aimed at dairy farmers who are maximising their profitability by focusing on four key pillars of production – nutrition, genetics, management and animal health.
Eamon Sheehan, who switched from Suckler beef production to dairying just five years ago, beat competition from all over Ireland to take the top award. He was presented with the award, which consists of an all-expenses study tour of dairy farms across Europe, during Dairy Day at Punchestown, Co Kildare on Tuesday 20 November.
Eamon’s Background -
Eamon and his wife Lois run their dairy farm at Cuffesgrange in Kilkenny.
They have two children, Rachel (6) and Julia (4). Up to 2012, they had a herd of 120 Suckler cows. They started the switch to dairying in 2013. Today, they are milking 150 cows and will calve 185 next spring.
“We were looking for excellence across a wide range of areas and Eamon scored very high in all vital measurements of high-performance dairy farming,” said Mike Magan, chairman of Animal Health Ireland, a member of the judging panel.
Evidence of this high standard of management can be seen from the fact that 85% of Eamon’s herd were calved within six weeks last spring. Less than three per cent of cows proved not in calf after 12 weeks of breeding and just two out of 56 heifers were not in calf after nine weeks of breeding.
(Eamon Sheehan (left), the overall winner of the MSD Protection for Profit competition, being presented with his award by Dr William Minchin, MSD ruminant business unit director. Also included is Mike Magan, chairman Animal Health Ireland and one of the judges of the award.)
Eamon also operates a comprehensive disease prevention programme which includes vaccination against IBR, leptospirosis, salmonella and calf scour.
Calves are vaccinated against clostridial diseases, while he also operates a rigid screening programme for Johne’s disease.
He was described by Dr William Minchin, ruminant business unit director with MSD Animal Health, as a leading example of the growing number of progressive farmers who now use prevention rather than cure in their approach to herd health.
“This is demonstrated in the dramatic increase in the use of preventative vaccines in Ireland, which has more than doubled during the past decade. This sets a solid platform for healthier animals which require less antibiotic intervention,” said Dr Minchin.
Grass Management -
Outstanding grass management is another achievement for the Sheehan family.
One-fifth of the farm is reseeded each year and grass growth is measured every week. In 2017, the Sheehan farm grew 15.4t of grass dry matter/ha. This year the figure is around 10t/ha, evidence of the impact of the difficult spring weather and the summer drought, particularly in the south-east.
As a result, Eamon was forced to feed 1.5t of meal/cow this year, compared to 750 kg in 2017. Through purchasing a substantial amount of silage, he is confident of having enough feed to see him through the winter.
Other Ventures -
Eamon was awarded a Nuffield scholarship in 2017 and recently spoke about his study at the Nuffield Ag conference in Castleknock, which you can watch in the video below.
This involvement in Nuffield has enabled Eamon to travel extensively to study his chosen topic of antibiotic resistance and the importance of vaccination to prevent disease while also reducing use of antibiotics. Countries he has visited to date include the US, China, Singapore, Philippines, Germany, France and the UK. He acknowledges the enormous support of his parents Eamon and Maureen and his full-time farm assistant Aidan Foley in enabling him to undertake his Nuffield studies.
It is hoped that his success in the MSD Animal Health Protection for Profit competition will enable him to further broaden his horizons and experience European dairy farming at its best.