'It was an awful place to be - really soul-destroying. If someone told you to milk on your head you'd try it.'
Published 03/06/2015 | 02:30
High somatic cell counts were costing Conor Molony over €25,000 a year in 2005. It was a tough time for the Centenary supplier.
"We were getting fined, even though we were trying everything - getting the parlour tested, using homeopathic remedies, pre-dipping clusters. It was an awful place to be - really soul-destroying. If somebody told you to milk on your head, you'd try it," recalled Conor sitting in his kitchen.
The turning point was the day that Glanbia sent out a British vet called Peter Edmondson to Molony's farm.
"He arrived and went through absolutely everything, from the records to the vacuum levels and the way we were milking.
"At the end of the day, he stood at the top of the yard and pointed to a new tractor I had parked outside the shed. 'Do you know that you'll make the price of that tractor many times over if you invest in a decent parlour?' he said to me.
"He said that the vacuum pump that we installed in the first four unit parlour was totally inadequate for the 12 units that we were running on it. The vacuum levels were dropping so much that the teat ends on many of the 70 cows were severely damaged, to the extent that the sphincter muscle was being exposed in some cases," said Conor.
So Conor undertook a major investment programme, including the installation of a 20 unit milking parlour. But even this did not immediately solve all the problems. "We found that we didn't have enough current from the 15KVA transformer, so we had to get on to the ESB to upgrade to a 33KVA.
"But we also implemented a number of management changes that really help. For example, we hold back any problem cows to the end - that removes the possibility of missing those cows if you get distracted during milking. But it also minimises the amount of cross-contamination that can happen because we're not putting the cluster back on to a healthy cow afterwards.