In this week’s Farmer Focus, That’s Farming, speaks to Tom Slattery, a dairy farmer in Dingle, Co Kerry, based known as the Irish Farmer.
Tom started farming full-time at 19-years-old, after completing his degree course at Pallaskenry Agricultural College and in 2020, trained as an AI technician with Munster Bovine.
The young Kerry native farms 140-acres of the family farm and 20-acres of leased land, along with the help of his father, Michael and other family members.
As a fourth-generation farmer, he has been involved in running the dairy enterprise “since day one”.
The Irish Farmer
The spring-calving grass-based system comprises 60 cows at present. The farm has expanded over the last six years, increasing from 40 to its current size.
“It was always my intention to expand the herd, and the land became available, which made it possible,” he told That’s Farming.
Following this, an extra plot of land covering 20-acres became available for leasing. This created the opportunity for the Slatterys to increase their herd size.
Their land base has enabled the family with the opportunity to follow through with his plan of increasing cow numbers.
In terms of breeding, most of the herd are British-Friesian-Holstein-crosses, with some pedigree Holsteins. In addition, there are two Jersey cows in the mix.
Tom tells That’s Farming of his reasoning behind the breeds chosen on the farm.
“Cows have a good milk yield, good solids and are long-lasting fertile cows that will go back in calf every year.”
The breeding programme on Slattery’s farm includes both dairy and beef breeds.
Breeding is done through AI for the first eight weeks. Following this, they introduce a Hereford bull with cows to mop up any repeats. The total length of the breeding season is twelve weeks.
“All cows with the highest EBI and highest milk solids and yields are bred to dairy sires to breed replacements.”
Calving takes place from January 25th until the last week of April. The reason for this is simple, “all cows are calved early and before peak milk production,” Tom tellsThat’s Farming.
Heifers on-farm calf down at 24 months for efficiency purposes.
“My ideal cow is 700 kgs in weight. In terms of breed, the cow would be a British-Friesian-Holstein cross with a high milk yield, high milk solids and great fertility.”
They retain dairy replacement stock on the farm. Furthermore, they keep beef calves on-farm and rear them close to slaughter.
Targets to improve current performance
According to co-op data, the average yield of cows is 5,000 litres and 405 kgs of milk solids.
“Fat is 4.25%, and protein is 3.6%. Meanwhile, the average SCC is 97,000,” he adds.
Tom’s target performance figures are 6,500 litres per cow, 500 kgs of milk solids, 3.8% protein and 4.50% fat.
The spring calving rate is currently sitting at 60%. However, this is another element of the farm that Tom aims to improve.
“I aim to improve this figure to 80%. The current calving interval is sitting around 386 days. Furthermore, we are also using sexed semen, this year, for the first time ever and are trialling on heifers.”
The current milking system installed on the farm is a 6-unit DeLaval. Hereafter, they milk cows twice a day, and milking times vary, taking up to 90 minutes.
“I am thinking about upgrading in the future to a 14-unit, and I am currently looking around at different systems at the moment.”
At present, the farm is undergoing some infrastructure upgrading.
“We have one slatted unit for the cows. Currently, we are extending with extra cubicles and calf pens, which is now near completion.”
Tom has a keen interest in grassland management. He walks the farm every week and measures grass using a quadrat.
This is completed to create a grassland management plan to ensure an adequate supply of grass available for both grazing and forage production.
With the Covid-19 pandemic having minimal impact on the ongoing dairy enterprise, the Slattery’s farm has successfully achieved recognition for its low cell count. This recognition has been obtained from their local co-op.
A clear dairy enthusiast, Tom tells That’s Farming, “I love all of it! I love seeing the heifer calf grow into a cow.”
“Also, I love caring for them as long as they are on the farm. I take real pride in animal welfare on my farm.”
Tom faces challenges that many farmers across the nation are posed with for 2022.
“Fertiliser prices and feed costs are a big concern. Hopefully, as the year goes on, things will balance out.”
Soaring fertiliser prices have made using slurry a more attractive, low-cost fertiliser, coupled with a correct soil sampling procedure.
Hereafter, Tom overcame a huge challenge that stood in the way of his progressing dairy career.
“My biggest challenge to overcome has been the fear of failing and not being able to believe that I could do it when I started at a young age.”
In terms of future plans, Tom has some short and long-term plans in place to work towards.
“My short term goal is to improve cow performance, as well as reseed the majority of the farm. Following on, long term goals for the farm are to increase cow numbers and improve infrastructure on the farm.”
On reflection, Tom’s optimism paves the wave for a positive outlook on the dairy sector for the future.
“Everything looks stable, but you never really know what is down the road.”
“I am a very optimistic person, so I do not really think about it, but I do feel there will be some challenges that we will need to overcome in the future. I am sure we will be able to adapt to them.”
Tom already has an online social media presence in the agricultural community.
He concluded, “I established my own YouTube channel, @The Irish Farmer, to share my farming journey with others. Subscribe to my channel for videos every Wednesday and Sunday.”
To share your story like the Irish Farmer, please email [email protected]