HomeDairyHow Peter's daughter and a drought prompted a change in farming style
Catherina Cunnanehttps://www.thatsfarming.com/
Catherina Cunnane hails from a fifth-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 company in 2015.
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How Peter’s daughter and a drought prompted a change in farming style

In this week’s dairy segment, Peter Twomey, Whitescros of Glenbrook Farm reflects on his 20-year farming journey, covering decreasing his cow numbers, venturing into pigs and radical changes he has implemented to overcome challenges. 

In 2001, I started milking 25 cows on 30-acres of the farm at home due to Foot and Mouth restrictions at the time.

I then increased to 75 cows in 2002 on the entire farm of 80 acres. I am the third generation of the Twomey family to milk cows in Glenbrook.

In 2018, I milked 98 cows, and due to the drought of that year, I have made a lot of changes to the farm in herd size and in the style of farming.

With the help of a nutritionist (Brian Reidy), we decided to make the whole farm available for grazing at all times and make top-quality silage from any surplus grass that arises.

We make up any food shortages in the form of straw and dry cow meal (from Howard Farms) and maize silage for freshly calved cows in the spring.

All our heifers (calves and yearlings) are contract reared for the grazing season, so we now have plenty of grass for the cows and potential silage.

Breeding programme

The breeding season started on April 20th, and after 18 days this year, we had 84 % of the herd submitted for AI. There will be 21 days AI to Friesian sires, and then the remaining 8 weeks will be to beef AI sires. This means all my Friesian heifer calves are born from the most fertile cows on the farm.

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Besides, I have also started using the Moocall heat detection collar on a vasectomised bull, and I find it is very helpful technology.

The other benefits are that the Friesian heifer calves are a good size and should reach their target weight at 24 months. I sell all male calves and beef-sired progeny as calves.

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Herd performance and grassland management

Currently, the cows are averaging 29 litres at 3.83 butterfat and 3.65 protein. Based on last year’s milk recording data, they averaged 540 kilos of milk solids on 1.25 tonnes of concentrates.

Grass is part of the cow’s diet from February to November, and I am now learning exact grass measurements. The dry matter percentages are my biggest challenge. I have a very dry and weather-sensitive farm with variations in grass growth.

Infrastructure

My yard and milking parlour are a work in progress. I have a 10-unit DeLaval, which I bought second-hand 20 years ago. Besides, I converted old- round roofed silage pits to cubicle houses with accommodation for 105 cows.

I love everything about dairy farming but find the volatility of price and weather are the most challenging aspects. I spent a long time building to 98 cows, and 2018 was the year my business plan was to reap the rewards.

Instead, due to the drought, fodder shortages and cashflow shortages, this was not to happen.

So when I was at rock bottom, my then 7-year-old daughter told me, “Dad, I know you have 98 cows now, but why don’t you sell a few. If you have fewer cows and they have more grass, they will have more milk, and if they produce more milk, you will have more money”.

Who needs a discussion group when you have this at home?

Pig farming

On the other hand, my love for pigs must be in my DNA as my father and his brother both kept pigs in Glenbrook 50 years ago.

Pigs have been part of my life for 12 years, starting as just a hobby and a way to use up waste ground on the farm.

In 2017, I bought four Tamworth sows out of wedding gift money. Unfortunately, when they farrowed down, I had no market set up for their piglets…DISASTER.

In 2018, I walked into the Irish Pig Society tent at the ‘Ploughing’ and walked out a new man. In 2020, I branded the farm, Glenbrook Farm, and designed an outdoor pig farm.

I took to social media, setting up Glenbrookfarmcork to build an audience and share my passion. To note, I find it a great creative outlet and as an easy way to share my passion with like-minded people.

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I took on an extra seven sows and secured a contract with GLENBROOK FARM 2 Ballymaloe Farm to supply them with 100 weaners a year.

Furthermore, I have recently started supplying outdoor reared pigs to my local butcher, Brynes Butchers, in Ballyvolane.

Together, we are hoping to explore more avenues regarding selling, possibly pork boxes or supplying to restaurants.

I have become a committee member of the Irish Pig Society, and we are currently working on lots of exciting ideas on how to promote IPS members’ pigs. All members pigs are non-intensively reared.

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Future plans

The future of the pigs on Glenbrook Farm is very exciting. I am passionate about the way that they are reared, with full access to the outdoors at all times.

They are in their natural habitat and grow happily without any requirement for antibiotics to develop.

They work well alongside the cows; the nature of a dairy farm means I need to be here all the time, and feeding the pigs once-a-day slots well into the daily routine.

The plan for the future is to increase from 15 to 20 sows, which will allow me to fulfil more contracts that I have now available to me.

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Reflection

I love farming, and it does sometimes feel mental to take on another business while already having a time and labour-intensive dairy farm, but I love the pigs, and they make me happy. The more time I spend with them, the more I love them.

The goal is tho they will raise enough revenue for me to afford help with cows and ultimately find a better work-life balance.

They say farming is a vocation, and it is mine. I want to do this my entire life. There have been many sacrifices along the way, but I do not wish to do anything else.

In conversation with Catherina Cunnane

To share your story, email – catherina@thatsfarming.com

You can follow Peter on Instagram by clicking here.

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