Richard Milligan, who farms in partnership with his father Henry near Robertstown in County Kildare, has been awarded the 2020 Irish Hereford Prime Farmer of the Year award.
The Milligans farm approximately 24ha of grassland around the yard and a further 40ha nearly two miles away, some of which is in tillage.
Richard studied at Harper Adams Agricultural College in the UK. After graduation, he secured several farm manager jobs, predominantly on tillage farms.
Having played rugby in school and college, Richard enjoys watching rugby whenever he can. However, being a ful-ltime farmer with a young family, he doesn’t have much free time.
With a long family history of farming in the area, Richard’s great grandmother and grandfather bought the farm in the 1930s. This farm makes up part of the land he farms today, and Richard is hopeful the farm will continue to stay in the family for generations to come.
Like all beef farmers, Richard finds the realities of farming tough and would love to see the negative publicity towards the beef sector shift. He feels there is a need to inform and educate the public more regarding food and beef production in Ireland.
Richard appreciates the on-farm support he receives from Irish Hereford Prime and is fully supportive of the recent Hooves4Hospice campaign.
The father and son team run two Hereford stock bulls with their 40 cows plus replacement heifers in a suckler-to-beef spring-calving herd.
They also have used Hereford AI on maiden heifers and selected cows to increase the ICBF Euro Star values of their breeding stock in previous years. Currently, there are 10 Hereford-cross heifers in-calf to an easy calving Hereford bull.
When asked ‘Why Hereford?’, Richard and his father Henry instantly reply that “the ease of handling and finishing of Hereford cattle, combined with the ease of calving and the high level of calf vigour at birth, are proving to be very positive for our farm”.
Hereford-cross calf-to-beef system
In addition to the suckler herd, a Hereford-cross calf-to-beef system is also operated on the farm. The Milligans are careful to source these calves in batches at 3 weeks of age from local dairy farmers that they have established relationships with to help to reduce disease risk and stress.
The ease of finishing stock for slaughter at Kepak’s nearest plant in Clonee is very welcome on the Milligan farm. Hereford cross steers and heifers are mainly grass-fed. Only small levels of concentrates are given for 60 days pre-slaughter.
Heifers on the farm are finished between 18 and 24 months of age, determined by weight and animal quality. Steers are finished from 20 months at grass.
A portion that are ready for finishing are housed and fed high-quality silage. These animals are a priority for early turnout to avail of the high-quality spring grass, to aim for a late spring or early summer finish.
Housing for the winter period sees the cows eating silage while on slats with access to a straw bedded lie back area. Other dry-stock on the farm are housed on a straw bed which Richard feels is good for both animal health, welfare and performance.
The Milligans also have winter forage crops (forage rape or redstart) to out-winter weanlings as Richard feels this allows his cattle to really push on when they get to grass in early Spring. These winter crops help reduce straw, silage and purchased concentrate requirements.
The Milligans’ grades and young slaughter age is achieved by good grassland management which is key to maintaining animal performance on the farm. Even at relatively young ages, many of their Hereford cross cattle are grading R- or better. All qualifying heifers and steers receive an Irish Hereford Prime bonus payment.
These factory returns are impressively consistent and highlight the Milligans’ theory about why a Hereford bull has such a strong role to play on suckler farms in Ireland.
The Hereford animals’ ability to thrive well on a grass-based system is a major benefit for this family farming system.
To facilitate the control of grassland, Richard and Henry have been using a multiple paddock system with cattle grazed in larger groups to allow fresh grass to be grazed out quicker. Cattle are given access to new grass every 24 hrs, which leads to higher average daily live weight gains.
Grass is considered the most important feed on the farm, with emphasis on presenting the best quality grass to all stock for the longest grazing season that weather will allow.
Management of grass is based on regular grass walks where grass is measured and recorded on Pasturebase Ireland for support in decision making.
This helps with a more targeted approach with applications of Nitrogen. This has delivered significant improvement in the quality and the utilisation of grass as a resource.
Irish Hereford Prime
In a statement, a spokesperson for Irish Hereford Prime said:
“Irish Hereford Prime is delighted to present the award for 2020 Farmer of the Year to Richard and Henry Milligan.”
“Irish Hereford Prime is a beef producer group with over 5,000 members throughout Ireland.”
“Certifying Irish Hereford Prime beef for over 100 customers in 13 different countries, the award-winning beef brand has seen double-digit growth for the last number of years and is continuing to look for new markets in both Ireland, Europe and the wider world.”