The removal of milk quotas fuelled the Keaveney family’s desire to expand their dairy farm.
The enterprise, situated in Ballymoe, Co Galway, now consists of a spring-calving grass-based 160-cow herd.
Fourth-generation farmer, Enda, runs the operation with his parents, Eamonn and Joan. His siblings, Sinead, Kevin, and John also assist in the evenings and weekends.
“We have always been dairy farmers. Eamonn farmed sheep along with dairy cows for a period in the late 80s/early 90s,” they told That’s Farming.
“The removal of milk quotas enabled us to utilise the farm’s potential fully. We were previously milking 80 cows.”
Most of their cows are Friesian, although they also have some Kiwi-crosses and a Shorthorn-cross within the herd.
“We select these breeds because of fertility and an ability to turn grass into high-value milk solids. Also, these breeds of cows are low maintenance, easy to care for cows.”
Their 12-week breeding season commences on April 27th of each year. Firstly, cows are AI’d over six weeks; they then use Friesian sires on specific cows to breed replacements.
In addition, AI beef sires, Belgian Blue, and Hereford are utilised on remaining cows over this period. Finally, Angus stock bulls run with cows for the last six weeks of the breeding period.
Replacement heifers are AI’d over a 10-day synchronised programme, before an Angus stock bull mops up. Calving takes place at the beginning of February and finishes at the end of April.
“Our ideal cow type is a Friesian weighing 550 kg with a good mix of fertility, quality/quantity of milk production and a strong health status.”
All Friesian bulls and beef calves are sold from the farm which the farmers retain all Friesian heifers as replacements as part of a 24-month calving system.
The herd’s current performance stands at 12 litres, at 4.9% butterfat, 3.87% protein with a somatic cell count of 143,000. “We are coming to the end of our milking lactation. We will dry-off cows by the end of November/early December.”
“Overall, we have had a good year, performance-wise. The farm is on target to achieve 450 kgs of milk solids per cow produced for the milking season on 956 kgs of concentrates per cow.”
“An additional 100kgs of meal was fed during early June because of a fall-off in grass growth due to a drought. We are pleased with this as half the herd consists of first and second lactation cows.”
Last year, cows produced 436 kgs of milk solids at 4.02% fat, 3.44% protein and SCC at 129 from a concentrate input of 846 kgs per cow.
Grassland management and infrastructure
Furthermore, grassland management is an essential practice on the Galway-based farm. The family walk the farm weekly during the grazing season, and record all grass covers on Pasture Base.
In 2016, the family installed a 20-unit Dairymaster parlour with automatic cluster removers, swing-over arms, in-parlour electronic feeders and an auto wash system.
“Cows are milked twice-a-day, and it takes roughly 2 hours. This includes bringing them in from the paddock, milking, wash down when finished and returning to the paddock.”
In 2016, the family constructed a new dairy unit which combines a dairy, parlour, cubicles, drafting/cattle handling facilities, and a calving area all under the one roof.
They have 154 cubicles with feeding headspace for 170 cows, 29 cubicles for weanlings with feeding headspace for 50 and a calf rearing facility.
“The technology we have adopted on our farm is the Herdwatch app for all farm records and preparing for Bord Bia audits. Also, we use the Pasture Base app for grass management and ICBF profiles for herd management.”
Looking ahead, the family have no immediate plans for any further expansion in cow numbers. However, their focus regarding development is an improvement in calf rearing facilities.
“We plan to increase kgs of milk solids produced per current cow numbers, through continued improvements in herd genetics and compact calving, which leads to more days in milk per cow.”
The target for the coming years is 500kgs of milk solids produced per cow, from 700/800 kgs of meal.
“The best part about dairy farming for us is working together as a family. Thankfully, we can see the impact of our work and commitment to developing and progressing our farm. Improvements in the areas of genetics, grassland management and animal welfare have aided this.”
“At the current moment, the dairy industry is stable, considering all the events currently happening throughout the world, such as Covid-19, Brexit, and various trade wars.”
“This goes to show that the demand for healthy nutritious food such as dairy products is strong. We feel the nation will always require healthy food.” the family concluded.
You can follow the Keaveney family on Instagram.
To share your story, email – [email protected]