'Call it panic or what not....but we saw the word superlevy and decided not to milk the cows'

How this dairy farmer with 200 cows decided to go once-a-day milking

Stock image.
Stock image.
Margaret Donnelly

Margaret Donnelly

There are just 70 dairy farmers milking once a day in Ireland at the moment, but over 200 possible converts turned up to the Teagasc seminar on once-a-day milking.

West Cork farmer Declan White said it was just one word that convinced him to move to once-a-day milking - superlevy.

In the process of expanding his herd, while milk quotas were still in place, Declan admitted he was ahead of schedule in his expansion plans and when he received his milk statement in September 2012 and saw how little milk quota was available in the country until the following April, he had few options as "the country was awash with milk".

"Call it panic or what not but we decided not to milk the cows," he told the packed room in the Horse and Jockey.

Today, the West Cork farmer is milking 200 cross-bred cows, employing half a labour unit on his 117ha farm, and is still operating a once-a-day milking system on his farm.

His milking platform is 85ha and he has two silage blocks within 1.5 miles of the main farm.

This year Declan hopes to expand the herd to 250 cows, with 60 replacement heifers on the farm, of which he plans to sell 30-40 at the end of the summer.

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"Our milking platform is divided into two separate blocks, with 45ha around the parlour and another 40ha that can only be accessed walking the cows 800m on a public road. Not ideal but its what we were givien to work with."

Instead of returning to twice-a-day milking in 2015, Declan said they discovered the once-a-day system suited the farm.

"Our cows could graze paddocks up to 3km away.

"We doubled our milking platform and in west Cork you take every opportunity at land," he said, describing available land around west Cork as scarce as "hen's teeth".

It has also facilitated low labour costs, he said. The farm employed a work man for half a day a week eight years ago. Today he's still with the farm and is working the second half of the day on a neighbour's farm.

"He came from construction and had never milked a cows in his life. That was eight years ago. Today, he’s on the farm at 7am, and gone from us at 1pm."

During this time Declan makes sure to get all the 'two-man jobs' done, freeing up his time to concentrate on grass management the rest of the time.

"Ultimately, once-a-day milking gives us a better work life balance, which is self explainatory."

Typical Day

With cows 2.5-3km away, Declan starts his day at 6.30am when he and the farm worker collects cows.

"He opens the gate onto the road, with me behind the cows. The cows are walked the 800m to milking and are then held in yard until all the milking is finished and machine is washed."

Luckily, Declan says, there is not much traffic on the road, as it takes 12-13 minutes to walk the cows down the road and effectively close the road.

"All my neighbours are talking to me and we do everything to keep people on our side," he said, including cleaning the road when necessary.

"Cows will be on that road for 12-13 minute walk. There is a rotary brush on the back of a tractor and we clean it. That’s taken for granted."

The Numbers

  • 90pc of cows are calved in a six-week period and are straight to grass.
  • 2018 saw 850kg/cow of concentrates fed – Declan usually aims for 200kg
  • 44.2c.L average milk price in 2018

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