In this week’s dairy segment, That’s Farming, speaks to Leo Collins from Oldrose Holsteins He discusses taking the reins of the family farm, pushing production, DIY AI’ing, walking his land weekly, and his outlook on Irish dairy farming.
Leo Collins, from Ardcath, County Meath, began farming a 110-cow herd with his mother, Patricia, and father, Leo senior, over 16 years ago.
Over this period, he has grown it to a 220-cow strong Holstein Friesian herd by retaining heifers as replacements.
In 2001, Leo completed his Green Certificate at Warrenstown Agricultural College, undertaking the second year at Multyfarnham Agricultural College before it closed its doors.
In 2003, he studied for a three-year dairy diploma in Ballyhaise Agricultural College.
During his placement, he worked on dairy enterprises in Dundalk, Ireland, and a 1,300-cow herd in South Isle, New Zealand.
Leo is married to Aisling with three children: Saoirse (6), Eilish (3), and Orlaith (4-months-old). Oldrose Holsteins employs a full-time worker and an additional staff member for weekends.
In 2005, he expanded the farm’s infrastructure to include extra slurry storage, a new DeLaval 20-unit milking parlour and drafting facilities. He later purchased 42-acres of land.
“When growing up, I often could be found in the yard, milking, or feeding calves, so I grew up with farming. My father started pig farming and moved to dairy farming in the 1970s,” Leo Collins told That’s Farming.
“I can graze 180-acres, but in May, I have 100-acres of silage. So, we would be farming close to 350-acres grassland with 32-acres of maize.”
“The reason I chose Holstein Friesian is because of their size, conformation, and genetic type. My ideal cow has to be a plus on milk, protein, and butterfat.”
According to co-op data, the herd is delivering 650-670kgs of milk solids per cow, 9,800-litres of milk at 4.1% fat, 3.4% protein, with an SCC of 110 and TBC of 5.
“Last year, protein was slightly lower. We are gaining protein every year.”
“I would instead go up slowly, maintain milk yield and increase the protein percentages a little every year. So, butterfat usually stays the same, around 4.0%.
In 2020, the herd delivered an average of 645 kg milk solids per cow with under 10,000-litres of milk recorded with an SCC of 120 and TBC of 4.
Leo stated that to achieve these figures, it required 1.4t of concentrates with grass, maize, and fodder beet fed to cows.
In the early 2000s, the farm received the Glanbia milk award.
Other successes include getting a diamond certificate in 2020 for Oldrose Ruud Molly EX91 2E and Oldrose Bond Bridie 2 EX92 4E at the IHFA awards.
In addition to this, Leo also hosted the national IHFA farm open day in 2018.
Oldrose Holsteins operates both an autumn and spring-calving system
Calving commences for the autumn group from September 1st to November 15th, with spring-calving from January 28th’ to mid-March. Leo calves heifers down at 24-months.
“I calve at these times because I want to fulfil my liquid quota. For spring-calving, cows do not get out until early March because of heavy soil where we live.”
“My calving interval stood at 400 days last year. I would let a cow go from autumn to spring or spring to autumn, but I would never let a cow go from autumn this year to autumn next year.”
“However, I am not keen on getting them calved in the first six weeks. I rather stagger them out to halve the workload.”
Leo’s breeding programme includes a round of sexed semen, followed by conventional semen and an Aubrac stock bull for mop-up. He has been using sexed semen for over one decade to improve conception rates.
Leo calls any cow that does not hold from his stockbull, citing somatic cell count, infertility, or lameness, as reasons for this action.
Leo AIs the herd himself as the holder of a DIY AI course.
“DIY AI was a good skill to learn. You can pick when you want to AI the cow and not be relying on a person to do it for you.”
These sires include Renegade, Helix, Undenied, King Doc, King Royale, and Crush.
Leo retains all his heifer to continue building his herd and sells bull calves when they are at two-weeks-old.
“I might keep a few heifers for beef. If I ever went down the road of ET work, I would have a few recipients.”
Grassland management and infrastructure
Leo walks his land once a week along with his five neighbours. “There are five of us [farmers] in a local discussion group, Evergreen, and we live beside each other.”
“Grassland management is an important practice, especially if you feel you are coming into a drought. If you feel the grass is heavier, you can take it out quickly and try to keep grass cover at the 1,500 mark for grazing cows.”
Leo owns a 20-unit DeLaval fully automatic CTU milking parlour with a feed-to-yield system and drafting system. He milks cow twice a day, a task that takes four hours.
He previously milked with an 8-unit Herringbone milking parlour through milk jars.
“It was a very old parlour. You could be four hours per milking, so time management was an issue. So, that is why we decided to change it. We were moving up in numbers, and we needed a new parlour.”
Other infrastructures include a 155-cow cubicle shed, a 70-cow cubicle shed, a 40-cow cubicle shed, a slatted shed and straw bedded sheds.
Concluding, Leo reflected on his journey taken so far, having joined the family farm full-time in 2003 to the present year.
“Farming is not a race; it is like a marathon. Financially and mentally, it is very challenging, and you need that balance of a steady income and standard of life.”
“You will always have ups and downs. For example, milk price went low in 2009/2012, but we got through it and came out the other side.”
“You are your own boss. Also, you are not rushing off in the morning to beat traffic.”
“You can go home in the evenings, put the kids to bed, and if you are not finished, you can head back down to the farm, top a paddock, put out fertiliser or leave it until tomorrow. There are no deadlines. Farming can be very flexible.”
He expressed that farmers have to rise above challenges that they continue to meet.
“Dairy farming is always challenging because rules and nitrates are always changing. We try to be as environmentally friendly as possible.’’
“We always plant trees every year, and we look after the land. If you look after the land, the land will look after you.”
Leo plans to maintain his current herd size and grazing platform but increase profit per hectare.
He hopes his children will farm the land in later years and become the third generation of the family farm.
In terms of production, he aims to maintain the 10,000-litre mark and reach 3.7% protein and 4.5% butterfat.
“The plan is to get our constituents up but keep producing the same amount of milk. That is where the profit is and to keep everything as modernised as possible.”
“Our key aim is to keep producing high-quality, fresh milk. Farming is gone more business-like, and you have to treat it like a business.”
“There is a future in dairy farming. I hope this future is one where family farms such as mine play an important role,” the dairy farmer concluded.
To share your story like Oldrose Holsteins, email Catherina Cunnane, editor of That’s Farming, – [email protected]