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HomeDairySons’ desire to farm driving cow numbers to 250 on Meath farm
Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane hails from a sixth-generation drystock and specialised pedigree suckler enterprise in Co. Mayo. She currently holds the positions of editor and general manager at That's Farming, having joined the firm during its start-up phase in 2015.
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Sons’ desire to farm driving cow numbers to 250 on Meath farm

In this week’s dairy segment, That’s Farming, speaks to Harry Evans of Clontail Farm about expansion, farm targets and the industry’s future.

Dairy farming runs deep in the veins of Harry Evans, who is the fourth generation to carry on the tradition in Clontail, Drumconrath, Navan, County Meath.

Clontail Farm, spanning 270-acres, now comprises a 190-cow Holstein Friesian and Jersey-cross herd, following expansion in recent years. Nora and Gordon’s sons’ burning desire to farm in the future was the driving force behind their endeavours.

Harry told That’s Farming: “My mother, Nora, manages the finances, and my dad, Gordon, runs the farm on a full-time basis.”

“He is helped by Conor, who loves machinery and looks after most of that end, and Ryan, who helps out when we need an extra pair of hands, and his mechanical skills always come in handy. Furthermore, Sam and I do milkings, calf rearing and a lot of summer work also.”

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The family operate a traditional 100% spring-calving grass-based system, calving from February 1st, annually with an aim to “match calving dates to grass availability”.

This year, an 80% 6-week calving rate resulted in a 365-day calving interval.

Their ideal cow type is a medium-sized animal in the region of 500kgs, which produces good milk solids, fat, and protein, has a low maintenance input, and produces a strong calf. Ultimately, a “cow that can perform well off high grass and low concentrate diet”.

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“Holstein Friesians were ideal for the previous split calving of winter milk and spring milk and brought volume. Therefore, we introduced Jersey-crosses to improve fat and protein component volumes when we moved to a spring-calving creamery milk supplier setup.”

“We utilise Holstein Friesians and Aubrac, Hereford, Angus and Speckle Parks for the beef mating. To note, we select these breeds due to ease of calving, good growth rates and suitability to our dairy calf-to-beef system.”

“Furthermore, we have a 12-week breeding season, utilising Hereford stock bulls for the final three weeks. To note, we use tail paint method for heat detection.”

“We give a beef straw to low-EBI cows or any cows that are not in-calve after the first eight weeks of breeding. Our aim is to breed the highest-EBI calves for replacements. Dad does all the AI himself; we fix time AI our replacement heifers. We are considering using sexed semen in the future.”

The Evans keep all Friesian and Jersey-cross heifers as replacements, rearing these on the Meath-based holding.

They calve heifers between 22-24-months-old and sell surplus replacements as in-calve heifers. Besides, they sell bull calves to a dairy calf-to-beef rearer in Ireland to “avoid the need to export calves” and keep beef-bred bull progeny to rear to slaughter.

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Herd performance, infrastructure, and grassland management

According to co-op data, last year, the herd averaged 434kgs of milk solids at 4.4% butterfat and 3.68% protein from a concentrate input of 560kgs/ cow.

“Our current 16-unit high-spec Dairymaster milking parlour is 24-years-old but was built to high specification at the time. Before that, it was a lower-spec 12-unit, and before that an 8 unit. It is a 16-unit Dairymaster swing-over parlour with ACRs, milk meters, feed-to-yield, head locking rails, front and rear automated gates.”

Coupled with the parlour upgrade, grassland management is another component of the farm’s success story, with Harry spearheading this practice. “I look after much of the grassland management in terms of grazing, rotation planners and grass budgets.”

“We measure grass every week, and utilise Pasture Base to input data and make decisions on grazing etc. Besides, the farm is regularly soil sampled.”

“Furthermore, we are currently focusing on using the soil tests and grass measuring data to identify field’s requirements for N, P, K, reseeding and lime.

“We are adopting technology on our farm, including a trailing shoe slurry tanker, GPS for spreading fertiliser and Herdapp for all herd record-keeping and Bord Bia audit records,”

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Besides, the family has cubicle accommodation for 230 cows, slatted shed accommodation for a further 200 animals, and a calf shed and other existing straw bedded sheds to accommodate 140 -180 calves. Also, they have constructed a purpose-built calving shed with a calving headgate and C-gate if necessary.

“We aim to increase to 250 cows in the next few years, but the focus is on doing the fundamentals better every year, maintaining biodiversity and reducing the environmental impact on the farm before any large expansion would be considered,”

“In terms of production, we would like to achieve 500kgs of milk solids from 500kgs of concentrates.”

“We must focus on environmental sustainability to maintain a green image and leave the environment in a better place for future generations.”

“Milk prices will need to be sustained at current levels or higher to match rising costs of inputs such as fertiliser and concentrates,” Harry added.

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‘The rewards can be worth it’

Harry, a third-year BSc (Hons) in Sustainable Agriculture student at DkIT, plans to work in the agricultural industry, whilst carrying on the Evan’s dairying tradition.

“I enjoy working closely with animals and working in a practical outdoor environment. No day is ever the same. Every day is a challenge which makes it even more enjoyable,” added DkIT agricultural society committee member.

“Working with family can be difficult at times, but we all get on well, and most importantly, we have a laugh along the way! Seeing improvements on our farm from the effort we put in is satisfying. Dairy farming is a rapidly changing industry.”

“On the other hand, long hours at certain times of the year can be challenging. The job can sometimes be stressful, but the rewards can be worth it.”

“The journey has been exciting, and I have learned more from my dairy farm than I could have learned anywhere else. I believe it will stand to me wherever I go in life,” Harry of Clontail Farm concluded.

To share your story, email – [email protected]

You can follow Clontail Farm on Instagram here.

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