Monday, December 4, 2023
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HomeDairy‘We expanded to 240 cows to improve the quality of life’
Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane hails from a sixth-generation drystock and specialised pedigree suckler enterprise in Co. Mayo. She currently holds the positions of editor and general manager at That's Farming, having joined the firm during its start-up phase in 2015.
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‘We expanded to 240 cows to improve the quality of life’

That’s Farming editor, Catherina Cunnane, in conversation with Larry and Eoghan Kavanagh in this week’s dairy farming segment.

“We are a father and son duo farming a fifth-generation dairy enterprise on a full-time basis in Killanne, Enniscorthy, County Wexford.

We started milking cows in a bucket plant and built a four-unit parlour in 1968 and have always had cows on this farm since.

Previously, we used to have pigs but have specialised in dairy since the mid-2000s and now farm 240 cows.


We started the expansion journey in 2015 and were very limited prior to this, with a quota for only 80 cows.

We had an old 10-unit parlour, which was in bad need of replacement and had no feeders, so all feeding was done manually by the feed rail before milking.

The yard and facilities at this time were extremely tight for space. Also, we had to cross the road every day for milking and sometimes twice to reach some of the grazing platform.

So, we needed to invest in a parlour, and we wanted to move it across the road to give better access to grazing. We were lucky that land came up beside us for rent, and we used this to expand the herd.

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So, we grew the numbers from within the herd by 20-30 each year from 2015 to 2022 and have kept a closed herd for over 20 years.

We expanded to 230 cows to improve the quality of life and to enable future generations to farm here.

There was a lot of change along the way, but no doubt, we have developed a much more efficient system.

We farm across 85ha, which is a mixture of owned and rented ground. We also grow maize on land on a short-term lease every year and buy in some silage.


We run a spring-calving grass-based system with our herd of Holstein Friesian cows.

Breeding on the cows is 100% AI; we select the best cows to serve with Friesian straws and use high-EBI bulls.

We begin breeding on April 20th each year, and the bulls we use are all easy calving.

After seven weeks of breeding, all cows get beef straws, and easy calving, high Dairy Beef Index bulls are used. They are a mix of Hereford, Angus and Belgian Blue.

Breeding on the heifers takes place at the same time in the form of AI for six weeks, and we mop up with a genomically tested Friesian stock bull from our herd.

Calving starts on January 20th each year and at this point, we have enough grass to feed the cows as they calve.

The replacement heifers go to the contract rearer at 2 weeks of age, and we sell all other calves between 2 weeks and 6 weeks of age.

We retain heifers based on EBI and their dams, keeping approximately 50 every year, which all calve down between 22-24 months.

Milking is done in a 24-unit DeLaval parlour installed in 2018 and takes 2 hours and 15 mins, including washing up.

Technology in the parlour includes ACRs, a drafting gate, a backing gate and auto-wash.

The machine also has a plate cooler to save energy on cooling milk. We milk twice a day and are usually fully dry for Christmas until calving starts in late January.


In 2021, we did 460kg solids, and we expect to be slightly up in 2022.

Milk recording figures, as per data I extracted from the ICBF (Irish Cattle Breeding Federation) at the time of the interview with That’s Farming, showed 3.98% fat, protein of 3.7%, SCC of 124 and a TBC of 5.

Our average lactation is 3.1, so we have a young herd, and we are happy with the solids and have fed 1.1-1.2 tonnes of concentrates for the past few years.

Our calving interval is 364 days, and our 6-week calving rate is 80%, so we would like to improve this over the next few years.

We did try sexed semen on heifers several years ago, and we did not have a great experience, so we have not gone back since. It is not that we are against trying it again; we just have not done so recently.

Grassland management

Grassland management is very important to us; getting the right quality grass into the cows is essential.

Grass is measured every seven to ten days at the shoulders and every five days during peak growth. We use a grasshopper plate meter and find it a great tool that we could not be without.

We base all grazing decisions and meal feeding from the grass wedge and aim for a pre-grazing yield of 1400KgDm/Ha and a cleanout to 4cm.

In 2022, with both of us on the farm, it was much easier to stay on top of these things and not let them get away from you or get caught during the high-growth periods.

Better management of pre-grazing yields has encouraged clover growth in the swards. We have reseeded 90% of the farm in the past ten years.

Before that, we would have always used 0.5kg of clover per acre bag but in 2022 and going forward, we have started using 2kg of clover per acre bag.

A progressive approach to dairying

We contract out all fertiliser and slurry spreading. Fertiliser is all spread with GPS and slurry is all spread with LESS through the umbilical system.

We measure grass regularly and have a modern parlour. Moreover, we soil sample every two years and use min till on all reseeding for the past ten years.

Also, we have used selective dry cow therapy for the past five years. We milk record between 4-5 times a year and participate in herd disease screening.

We have been members of the Boro discussion group for the past thirty years.


We have 230 cubicles, 50 of which were added with the parlour in 2018, and 100 were recently added in a shed built in 2021.

Additionally, we have space for our calves as they are born and straw bedding for 60 animals. We have a 500,000-gallon lagoon and 160,000 gallons of storage in slurry tanks.

All paddocks are serviced with roadways and water; we have put a lot of work into this in the past ten years as we took on the rented land.

Setting goals

Dairying provides you with the ability to manage your own enterprise, set your own targets and achieve them.

Achieving the targets we set ourselves can be challenging. Also, the uncertainty of the change that will happen in the coming years is driven by global warming, specifically; nitrates and carbon emissions.

The biggest challenge we faced was farming within quotas, where you were constantly restricted, and any increase in output was a very expensive undertaking.

Short-term, we aim to keep doing what we have been doing and to develop a more efficient system, both from an environmental and labour perspective.

We are focusing on improving our 6-week calving rate and getting more clover into swards.

Climate change debate

Agriculture takes a lot of heat in the debate on climate change, dairy in particular, and we believe unfairly so.

Yes, we, as an industry, need to improve from where we are, but we have come a long way from 10 or 20 years ago.

Many farms are striving to continuously improve and meet the targets being set.

Ireland is one of the most environmentally friendly places to produce beef and dairy, and because of the great people in the industry, we are also one of the best at doing so.

Global warming is a global problem, and to beat it, the world needs to produce its food in the most environmentally friendly way possible.

In the case of beef and dairy, we should be producing this food in Ireland.

Should Ireland reduce output, the gap in the market will be filled by countries that are not as carbon efficient when it comes to producing beef and dairy.

We need to do things in a more environmentally friendly way, but we must be careful so as not to reduce output or undermine the viability of our farming sectors.

We have designated a small 0.5-acre field and an old dung stead on the farm for beekeeping.

These are both beside a large wooded area, and away from the yard, so it is a perfect area for the bees. Our neighbour, who is a beekeeper and looks after them, is delighted with it.

Playing our part

We are very conscious of the environment around us, and we protect our watercourses through good roadways and buffer strips.

Moreover, we encourage wildlife to flourish with over 15% of a space for nature and to try to continue to produce high-quality food in as carbon efficient a manner as possible.

We started the Instagram page @kavs_dairy_farm to show people what happens on an Irish dairy farm and to provide an insight into what many farms around the country are doing in a sustainable manner to reduce carbon emissions in agriculture.

We believe it is important that farmers help to turn the story of agriculture into a positive one.”

To share your story, email Catherina Cunnane of That’s Farming[email protected]

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