Feature: A 250-cow herd using 1 labour unit


“I wouldn’t change a thing” - Micheál Phelan swapped retail management for a managerial position on a dairy farm

Feature: A 250-cow herd using 1 labour unit

  • ADDED
  • 3 mths ago

“I wouldn’t change a thing” - Micheál Phelan swapped retail management for a managerial position on a dairy farm

Micheál Phelan left retail management in 2017 where he spent seven years aiming to have his own shop.

He has returned to farming - one of his first interests as he grew up on his uncle’s farm.

He now manages a 250-cow herd (all second-lactation) in Ballacolla, Co. Laois. The Jersey, Friesian, Montbeliard and Norwegian Red cows pass through a 40-unit Delaval rotary on a 235-acre holding.

Humble Beginnings

When the farm was purchased in Autumn 2016, it was a greenfield site with two grain sheds and a slatted shed.

In 2017, a group of two-hundred-and-thirty yearlings grazed the land while a parlour and a new cubicle shed were constructed. In the spring of last year, Micheál and an assistant calved the heifers in the farm’s first-year in-milk.

As a Jersey-cross herd of heifers, they averaged 16 litres/day with protein at 3.80% and butterfat at 4.50%; cows are now milking 23-litres at 4.09% butterfat and 3.64%.

“Most people think that I’m mad - They keep saying that 250 cows are too many for one person.” He told Catherina Cunnane - That’s Farming.

“To be honest, I thought it would be; however, after spending almost a year basically on my own, I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

System

The owners of the farm - Michael and Noel Hickey - milk close to six hundred cows between three other farms.

All calves - bulls and heifers - born on the enterprise that Micheál manages go to one of the other farms when they reach ten days of age, where family members do most of the rearing.

This allows the farm manager to dedicate more of his time to the cows which makes the system run smoother.

At the moment, Micheál is also taking care of fifty yearling heifers which are heading to be contracted reared out in the next week or so. There are also sixteen Jersey stock bulls which are destined for different enterprises following a round of AI.

A one-man show

Micheál said that the main reason this is a one-man show is because of the farm’s infrastructural developments and parlour.

There are over 250 cubicles with a calving pen all under one roof. “The shed plays a part in how efficient a farm can be.”

The shed has the capability of being divided into six groups or being open to the whole herd - making it ideal for springing cows and drying off, for example.

“Our 40-unit Delaval parlour is no different from any other parlour really, only it is much faster. The only added feature are ACRs which are necessary for this setup.”

“I have all the cows milked in under an hour most days - a statistic that should open anyone’s eyes if they are considering putting in a rotary if doing up or building a new parlour.”

He highlighted some of the benefits - cows spend no more than one hour in the collecting yard and parlour combined, which prevents lameness, allows the herd more time at grass and there’s a cleaner platform.

“I was surprised as with 40-units you would think it would get messy. The average SCC for last year was under 90,000.”

“There are retention bars on each unit which makes the parlour safe to AI, vaccinate and tail-paint cows.” He added.

Breeding

In terms of breeding the programme, cows were AI’d by a local technician over the course of a six-week period last year. With an AI success rate of over 90%, two stock bulls served the empty cows.

“Overall, only 14 cows out of 235-cow herd ended up empty which I am still milking at the moment.”

“We will be rolling out a culling policy within the next number of weeks; attention will quickly turn to breeding.” He added.

Future Plans

Micheál is one that “takes every day as it comes” which means that he has no further plans in place as of yet, although he relishes the idea of renting or purchasing a farm in the future.

“As the baptism of fire is over and I’m now settled into it all, I wouldn’t change a thing. I have learned something new every single day while also enjoying it at the same time.”

“If you aren’t happy in your work, make the decision that will benefit you for years to come.” He concluded.

If you have a story to share, please email Catherina Cunnane - catherina@thatsfarming.com

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