In this week’s dairy segment, That’s Farming, speaks to Cork farmers, the Barretts. They discuss transforming their out-farm into a dairy enterprise, having 90 cows classified EX, calving heifers at 24-months, stabilising their herd and accolades.
Rickey Barrett and his wife, Susan, son Rickey Jnr, John, and daughter, Julie, farm 370 dairy cows.
The family employs two people on the farm and their nephew JJ (part-time), who is completing a dairy science degree at MTU.
The Ballinhassig, Cork, natives farm Holstein Friesian cows under the Laurelelm prefix.
In 2000, Rickey converted an outside suckler and beef farm into a dairy enterprise. He sold suckler and beef animals to help start a dairy farm.
“It was always my ambition to milk cows,” he told That’s Farming.
In 1991, Rickey undertook a 3-month placement on a 200-cow mixed farm, with Holstein Friesian cows in the UK, as part of his Green Certificate at Rockwell Agricultural College.
He began farming in his own right with an initial 80 pedigree Holstein Friesian heifers from Laurelelmore herd, his father and brother’s enterprise.
The main cow families are Brilliant, Sassy, Daffodil, Shamrock, Sallies, and Joy.
“When we started milking in 2000, we leased quota and bought quota through the co-op when we were lucky enough to get it.”
“From 2015 on, we grew naturally since milk quotas were abolished. All cows are in the milking block. We lease outside blocks for cutting silage and rearing heifers.”
“When you are young and start off any business, you like to grow it. We grew our business since 2000, and we made mistakes along the way. Every time you try something, there are positives and negatives.”
Cork dairy farmers
Their aim is to have a cow that “has a lot of strength, good udders, good legs, good feet, has a calf every year, lasts for at least five lactations, gives a lot of milk and classifies as EX”.
“An example of this is the current All-Ireland protein cow, Laurelelm Ross Shamrock, who classified EX95, just calved her tenth calf and produced over 100T of milk.”
“All animals are genomically tested and classified, with over 90 cows classified EX currently in the herd, which is done through IHFA and ICBF.”
“Our breeding decisions and bull selection come from information from the IHFA and ICBF databases.”
“The big thing about the Holstein Friesian cow now is improved fertility, dairy strength, and the ability to convert feed/grass/concentrates into milk.”
“This is achieved with the good work and research that IHFA, ICBF, Teagasc, and the whole dairy industry have put into it.”
The aim of their herd is to produce over 650kgs milk solids, SCC 154, and a TBC of 5.
“Our main source of diet is grass, weather depending. We try to graze for 280-300 days, and cows are fed-to-yield through a DelPro feed-to-yield system and given 1.8T-2T ration.”
Breeding and calving
They select balanced bulls for good udders, good legs and feet, good protein percentage, good EBI with good fertility and good milk solids.
The family calve 50% of the herd from September to November and the rest from February to the end of April.
“When a calf is born, it is tagged and put into a single pen for 9-10 days. Then it is moved onto the Volac Urban automatic calf feeder for 70-80 days.”
They retain 25% of their females and sell surplus stock ranging from calves to in-calf heifers.
On the other hand, they keep some pedigree bulls for breeding for sell privately or put under the hammer at IHFA premier bull sales in Nenagh and Bandon.
They sell the remainder of male progeny at one-month-old for export.
They calve down replacement heifers at 24-months. “The aim is to have a healthy calf to have the heifer calving at 24-months.”
Grassland and farm infrastructures
The farm is managed on a paddock grazing system. “We grass measure at peak once a week – depending on grass growth,” they said.
“Surplus grass at peak times is cut for baled silage and fed at the backend of the year. Cows are then fed-to-yield on grass and get a new paddock every milking.”
They use their initial milking parlour, a 20-unit DeLaval MidiLine. They milk twice a day; 180 minutes in the morning and 120 minutes in the evening.
“All cows are on cubicles. Cows, before they calf, are in a straw bedded shed and are individually penned for calving.”
They implement technology on the farm using an automatic calf feeder, DelPro feed-to-yield in the milking parlour, as mentioned above, along with Agrinet HerdApp.
The following is a list of the herd successes:
Showing is a big hobby of the Barretts.
- Won the National Dairy Show three times – 2009, 2010, 2016;
- IHFA national herds’ competition winner five times;
- Champion at IHFA Nenagh and Bandon premier bull sale on numerous occasions;
- Receiving gold diamond awards for cows at the IHFA herds’ competition;
- 2018 – Tullamore Show Laurelelm Brilliant EX95 = came champion and reserve champion in Millstreet Show the same year;
- Won champion in local shows, Bandon, Bealgooly, Clonakilty and Cork agricultural shows;
- Won the All-Ireland protein cow on numerous occasions.
They outlined the challenges associated with being dairy farmers. “Every job is a challenge trying to improve something along the way. The biggest challenge is the volatility as a whole.”
“Dairy farming is no different to any other job. If you like it, and you have good people, it is good.”
“I think we are no different to previous generations of farmers.”
“They have progressed and brought it a long way, it is now our time to progress it and bring it forward for the next generation.”
“Our previous parents have adapted to changes, with the environment being the big one at the minute.
“Farmers are very conscious of the environment because they are working with nature every day.”
“So, we want to make it a better place, and when there is common sense on both sides, there is always a solution.”
They plan to “stabilise the herd, keep things simple, and adapt to any new technology or changes along the way”.
“The outlook for dairy farming is quite good, I would think it is very positive.”
“I think Irish dairy farmers are very lucky to have good people and good bodies such as our co-ops, IHFA, ICBF, Teagasc, and all the people on dairy bodies that help improve dairy farming. Sometimes we take it for granted.”
“Furthermore, a person I have a lot of time is Barry Murphy in FDC. He would have taught me an awful lot about the business side of dairy farming.”
“I think at these times, with all these good people and have one common interest making dairy farming a good place and working towards a better future improving the environment, dairy farming has a good outlook,” the Cork dairy farmers concluded.
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