How this dairy farmer is operating a 220-cow herd as a one-man-show

Norman Tuthill on his farm in west Cork.
Catherine Hurley

Catherine Hurley

Operating a 220 Holstein cow farm is a workable number for a one-man system, without heavy reliance on outside labour says west Cork farmer Norman Tuthill.

Stocking his milking platform at 3.5LU/ha, with the option of expanding the herd with outside blocks of land, the Bandon native says he’s content without growing the herd more and becoming more dependent on outside labour.

“The aim is to keep the herd at 220 cows. It’s a manageable figure for one person. We have Danny O’Regan working with us for three days during the week, he works elsewhere for the other two and every second weekend he’s here with us.

Norman also takes advantage of a local worker for relief milking on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. However, he maintains he can still operate the farm by himself if needs be.

“It seems to run smooth when everyone’s working but when the snow falls and no one can get here, I’m able to run the farm myself and still finish at a reasonable hour.”

“I’m not in a position where I can’t go two weeks without help, so I’m slow to increase the herd size again; I think that the next step is a big step where I’d have to get enough labour to cover if your first hand is away for two weeks or can’t work."

Norman Tuthill, farms with his wife Colette and three daughters, Olivia (16), Nicola (15) and Aoife (12) in Baurleigh, located half-way between Bandon town and Kilbrittain.

His 122ha farm consists of 63ha on the home farm, 28ha split into three blocks all within 7km of the home farm used for silage and tillage, and a further 31ha kept for tillage and stocking heifers 8km away.

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The winter milk farm calves down 80 cows during the autumn and 140 at spring time for 10 weeks, starting the February 1. All calves are sold except for 45 replacements between autumn and spring born heifers.

Norman does all the AI himself after the morning and evening milking for six weeks for the spring calving herd and uses an Aberdeen Angus stock bull to mop up towards the end of bulling season.


The west Cork farmer grows his own maize, some of the grain included in his 1t/cow of supplemented meal and beet. He also grew redstart the past season in an effort to bridge the forage gap burrowed during the drought.

“We have so much land away from home, I think it’s easier for us to bring in maize in the month of October than it is to be zero-grazing it every day. The whole herd stays here at home, while the heifers go out to outside block and graze after silage and whatever in-between.”

“I don’t think it’s labour intensive once the facilities are right. The maize is pitted and the beet is pulled every two weeks, the grains home and dried when we cut it. It’s labour intensive if you put it up against a spring calving herd alright but I’m happy with the way it plans out – it isn’t a hard workload.”

The herd runs as a single unit and is currently being fed for 30L through the diet feeder and fed to yield in the parlour after this, under nutritionist Brian Reidy’s instructions.

“The whole lot is together, the aim is not to get out of the pit while milking if you can, all cows fit in the collecting yard once both sides of the parlour are filled.”

Labour and Environment

Last year, Norman extended the DeLaval parlour from 20 units to 26, and has cut an hour off his daily milking time by doing so. The day starts and finishes at 6.30 in Baurleigh during the summer routine, allowing for a later start during the winter.

The Barryroe Co-op supplier is involved in the local discussion group and the Carbery’s Greener Dairy Farms project, while also being a monitor farm for his co-op. More recently he completed a diploma of Environmental Science and Social Policy in UCC.

“The opportunity came up and I took advantage of it. The environment and labour are the two biggest challenges for farming now and down the road, we have to be doing our bit for both.”

He also installed a flushing system that reuses soiled water from the parlour to flush heavy muck from the collecting yard. He then recycles water after it passes through the plate cooler to wash the whole yard and keep it fresh.

Water is pumped from the holding tank, to a concrete tank which is 12ft over ground and then runs through a 12-inch pipe running behind the collecting yard, which has 4-inch pipes 5ft apart coming up out of it. There’s an air valve that lets the water come out of the tank and into the pipes to flush the yard.

That used water then returns into the tank again and then pumped to return to the over-ground tank. Any water left over is spread as parlour washings.

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