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‘The dream target is to have 1,000 cows’

Farming in a progressive manner has been to the fore on the Hayes’ family farm in Two-Mile-Borris, Thurles, Co. Tipperary for over 400 years now.

Thomas, his father, Donal, and uncle, Liam, oversee the running of the 240-dairy cow herd, which consists of Friesian-cross-Norwegian Reds and some Jersey-cross-Norwegian Reds.

Their target cow average is 6,500L, reaching as close to a total solids figure of 8% (4.2% fat, 3.2% protein) as possible.

“We have crossbreds for the hybrid vigour for better feet, ease of calving and high fat and protein in milk.” Thomas, a 2014 UCD food and agri-business management graduate, explained to That’s Farming. 

Breeding programme

“We have both spring and autumn-calvers; this is to help keep a constant flow of milk throughout the year to supply the demand required from the adjoining factory.”

The trio plan to milk 300 cows, starting this September, are targeting 100 heifer calves to be born in winter-2020 and are aiming to use beef bulls, Limousin and Angus, in spring 2021.

The Hayes contract rear heifers, which return to the main herd 2-3 months prior to calving, while bull calves are sold.

“We are using Friesian semen on our herd this year. This will be the first time in many years that we are AI’ing all our cows; this is to increase the quality of the stock with proven high-EBI sires.”

“We used sexed semen on the first heat of our heifers and normal semen on our cows and repeats. We are breeding out the Norwegian Red-cross that has been in the herd for the last few years.”

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[The are ruins of two monastic churches and the foundations of a round tower, where, St Mochamóg, according to Irish legend, baptised the Children of Lir, is buried]

Grassland management

The progressive farmers measure grass weekly, using the old quadrant, cut and weigh method. They are currently working with a UK-based company to be its first Irish farm to measure grass via satellite.

“This is still on a trial period and we still measure the old way to compare the results to make sure that they are in line with each other.”

“We soil-test annually and fertiliser mix is worked out in accordance with the results. We also reseed between 10-15% of the land each year,” added Thomas, who has worked with Ornua, Bord Bia and Musgrave.

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At present, the family is focussing on the construction of a bio-digester, with a view to having this in operation by 2021.

The bio-digestor will be using the by-product of the factory and slurry from the farm to produce methane to power the heat of the factory and eventually, electricity to run the farm, factory and houses that are on-site.

“The installation of the bio-digestor is being supported by IRBEA as a demonstration site so when everything is up and running all will be welcome by appointment to see the farm and food processing facility.”

Tipperary Cheese

The Hayes are always striving to find workable solutions to help the farm reach new heights and that is how their cheese production enterprise was born.

“Cheesemaking was never a plan. It was a solution to a problem! My dad had a milk round in the 1980s. After quotas were introduced, he sold the milk round to Avonmore.

“To avoid the risk of being fined for having too much milk, dad and my uncle used the pasteuriser and separator from the milk round to start producing a soft cheese to sell locally.”

Tipperary Cheese was the result, and the launch of their first product followed in 1989. Since then, they have their grown product range from one soft cheese being sold to local hotels and restaurants to having over 30 varieties of soft cheese, yoghurts, and cultured creams.

All recipes have been developed by the family and they use milk from their own herd.

Their products, which are mainly for the foodservice industry (hotels, restaurants, dessert manufacturers, caterers, etc), are sold in Ireland, the UK, mainland Europe and even as far as China.

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Product range

They have scooped awards at the International Cheese Awards for having the best selection of yoghurts and are also the 2020 Small Firms Association Business of the Year in the food and drink category.

Their cheeses are mainly cream cheeses and Mascarpone, while their soured creams and crème fraiches are cultured creams.

They have a wide variety of yoghurts from natural and low fat in a variety of flavours and Greek-style yoghurt.

“Our Yofi and Gofi yoghurts are the first yoghurts to be low-fat and fortified with fibre, calcium and Vitamin D.”

“The fibre helps provide a sense of filling which is why we aimed them towards children to help prevent unhealthy snacking between meals.”

Currently, their retail range is available in select SuperValu stores around Ireland, while from July, the family will be taking part in Lidl’s Kickstart programme. “We hope to have our products on many more shelves around Ireland.”

“Our Yofi and Gofi yoghurts are the first on the market to be fortified with Calcium, Fibre and Vitamin D.”

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“What I like most about farming is being able to see the entire food chain from my front door. Seeing how good grass and fodder have an impact on the quality of cheese and yoghurts that we produce for our customers.”

“It also amazes me how one animal like a cow is able to make so many natural products for today’s demanding consumer.”

“From living in America and tasting the difference of grass-fed products is something that we take for granted but it is an excellent selling point for us when meeting new customers as well as the fact that the factory and parlour are right beside each other.”

“My favourite job to do on the farm would be milking, mainly as this is the only time of the day that the cows actually produce the cash!”

The ever-changing, modern farming environment is a constant challenge, the 2018 FBD Young Farmer of the Year other farming category winner admitted.

“The bar is continuously rising in farming standards, quality procedures and reducing our negative impact on the environment.”

“The toughest part about the latter is that it can’t be done overnight, and the potential costs associated with implementing these changes to improve our carbon footprint.”

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Covid-19 has affected the farm in that the price of milk has reduced, while the uncertainty of the virus has also delayed on-farm forward planning.

“The pandemic has had more of a negative impact on the business. Many of our customers are in the foodservice industry and they are largely closed or have reduced their activity, in the short-term.

“However, this is giving us additional time to work on new products and new markets with assistance from Bord Bia. We expect to have an increased market share when restrictions are over.”

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Constantly striving for improvement, the family have plans to develop their farm and cheese production business further.

“We are never satisfied. We are constantly upgrading the herd and continuing to increase its size. The dream target is to have 1,000 cows!”

“I’m positive for the future of farming in Ireland. I certainly believe that high standard, specialised farming is very sustainable and can meet the growing demand of consumer trends.”

“Seeing how progressive my friends in Thurles Macra and members of Macra and the resources that are available to them from the different agencies, I have every confidence that farming in Ireland is well-positioned to meet all future food and environment challenges,” Thomas concluded.

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