NDC and Kerry Gold Milk quality winner, Richard Starrett, produces high-quality milk from grazed grass and top genetics.
He took over his family farm in 1994, when his father availed of a retirement scheme. At that time, the family milked 70 cows and Starrett has increased numbers to 160.
Spring calving herd
The twelve-week calving season begins in early February on the 64-hectare farm.
“The labour on the farm would be myself, a full-time labourer unit, David Blackburn. There are two relief milkers who do alternative weekends or during the week if needed,” he explained on the Dairy Edge podcast.
The grazing block is 54 hectares in size, and the farm ranges in elevation from sea level to 600 feet.
Since 1994, Richard has doubled his herd size. He received an additional quota because he was a dual quota holder with Connacht Gold.
“We were able to get extra quota that way and built gradually up over the years; 2017 would have been my highest cow number.”
EBI: top 1% in the country
The EBI of the herd is €199, with a milk sub-index 67, fertility sub-index 89, fat predicted 0.15 and protein 0.12.
Whereas the 2021 calves have an EBI of €273 with milk sub-index of 95, fertility sub-index 132, with a predicted fat of 0.2 and a predicted protein of 0.16.
There was always a focus on EBI as Richard’s father focused on RBI.
“It is something we focused on to get a cow with good solids and good fertility. In 2020, 594 kg of milk solids were produced per cow, fat 4.52%, protein 3.92%, 6,837 litres with a cell count of 134 and a TBC of 8.”
Richard’s herd produces above the co-op and national average amount of milk per cow. This is influenced by grass – the predominant feed.
They have a long grazing system in place despite the 1600 ml of annual rainfall influenced by their coastal location. Cows graze from February 20th to mid-November.
“In August, it would rain every day, 3 or 4 ml, leaving the ground and grass wet.”
In an average year, they feed around 1.2 tons, depending on the weather.
“The grass dry matter would be 13 or 14%. We would start feeding bales at that stage, but the meal would be up to 5 kilos.”
“We feed from 3 to 6 kilos of meal depending on grass quality. Also, we manage grass measured every week. We know exactly what we need to feed them: bales or meal or grass and a few kilos of meal.”
2020 NDC and Kerry Gold Quality Milk award winner
Milk recording and selective dry cow therapy allowed Richard to be a step above the other competitors.
They completed five milk recordings in 2020. Which provided evidence that allowed Richard to selectively cull cows based on high cell count or a persistent offender.
“There are a certain number of cows in everybody’s herd that need to be culled.”
Richard received this award as a result of his emphasis on sustainability, grassland management and high animal welfare standards.
Selective dry cow therapy
They began this practice five years ago. When drying off, only cows with a cell count above 150,000 or cows that got mastitis during lactation are administered antibiotics.
“Last year in 2020, 24 cows got antibiotics at drying off. This is antibiotics to get us based on culture insensitivity testing on these cows to see what antibiotics we need to use on them.”
“I think that is going to be a real driving point going forward, because people are going to have to use fewer antibiotics.”
Key to success
Richard believes the key to success are time and cleanliness.
“It’s something you cannot rush in the milking parlour, sixteen of them in the milking parlour at a time is just enough.”
“I would not try to dry off more than thirty-two in one day.”
They spray cow’s teats and wipe them down before cleaning them with methylated spirits.
They start with the dry cow therapy first, and they do the antibiotic ones last.
“Cleanliness is the main driver; we bay the dry cow cubicles every day with lime or sawdust.”
Stand out practices and technology
Richard is constantly building and improving his farm.
“We are dealing with exceptional farmers with exceptional herds and achieving excellent production,” dairy advisor, Tommy Doherty, told Emma Louise Coffey.
“Richard’s focus on soil fertility and grassland management over the years is key to his success. There are a lot of simple things that Richard is doing right.”
“The big one being the practices around fertilisation and use of NMP and the production from grass.”
Richard uses technology such as LESS and protected urea to benefit both his farm and the environment by protecting waterways.
“Richard adapted technology such as an automatic calf feeder and the back latch on the grazing products.”
This adaptation improved the labour efficiency on the farm.
Furthermore, poaching of the grazing platform was minimised as Richard’s cows can now access the cubicles during bad weather.
“This has a positive effect on milk production. Cows get their full allocation of dry matter even if the grazing conditions aren’t right.”
Sustainability and the next generation
“Sustainability means I go into farming in a way that I have something good to pass onto the next generation the way I got it.”
Reflecting on 1994, Richard received not only the opportunity to farm, but also the responsibility of the farm.
Richard admitted “it was a nice age to take over the reins and still have my parents there to advise me as well, rather than trying to take over when I am 30 or 40”.
“It gives you more control and allows you to go whatever way you want to go.”
Solar panels and clover – ‘a win-win situation’
They installed solar panels two and a half years ago. They have a lifespan of 25 years, saving them €900 in electricity a year.
The energy goes into cooling milk, milking cows, heating and pumping water.
Richard is involved with the Teagasc Signpost Programme. “We are trialling now, oversowing clover into paddocks to see what sort of success we will have going forward.”
The Starrett’s produced just over 14 tonnes of grass in 2020. They aim to reduce nitrogen application on the farm while growing the same amount of grass, with clover making up for the rest of the nitrogen.
“That level of production is fantastic at 594 kilos of solids from 2020. In large, he is up 161 kilos of milk solids in the last seven years.”
The herd peaked in 2017. Richard reduced his cows in 2018 by 9%, but he still sold the same volume of milk.
“Keep milk recording four to five times throughout the year and select the cows that are underperforming,” Tommy advised.
“In regards to Richards’ herd, he has reached his potential at 594 kilos of milk solids.”
“He could easily get 650 kilos of milk solids out of his cows, but that would require increasing the tonnage of meal fed to them, which is not sustainable in the long run.”
“The key thing is the practice of focusing on milk recording and the efficiency of EBI and focusing on generic merit improving yearly to improve the farm’s sustainability.”
Another area they focus on is maintenance. “We try not to pick any bulls with a maintenance of less than ten,” Richard explained.
“Cow health is also very important.” Tommy feels it is “a farm where the basic and simple things are done correctly”.
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