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Thursday 15 November 2018

How this top dairy farmer grows 18t DM/ha - twice the national average grass production level

'It's about having the right people, the right cow and the right grass' top dairy farmer on his grassland management routine

Eddie and his father Denis on their farm in Golden, Co Tipperary
Eddie and his father Denis on their farm in Golden, Co Tipperary
Claire Fox

Claire Fox

Grass management is about having the right people, with the right cow and the right grass in front of them. That’s the verdict of Grassland Farmer of the Year Eddie O’Donnell who was speaking at the Teagasc Grass Fed Dairy Conference in Naas yesterday.

For Eddie grassland management is based around the cornerstones of “soil fertility, reseeding, infrastructure, grass management and measurement.”

In 2017 the overall grass production on his 116ha dairy farm farm was 18.6t DM/ha, compared to the average of 9.1t nationally and 16t in the top 20pc of farms in the country.

Soil fertility

Eddie and his team made up of staff Philip and Jeremy soil test the grass every two years and conducts a fertiliser plan in annually while also colour coding his paddocks.

“It doesn’t matter what your soil type is or where you are located in the country, grass can be grown properly,” he said.

Reseeding

Eddie selects the paddocks for re-seeding from the cumulative growth chart on PastureBase Ireland at the end of the year and aims to do their re-seeding in spring time as he finds this method to have the quickest turnaround time with the least risk,” says Eddie.

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Infrastructure

Eddie and the team have implemented extra roadways and water tanks on the farm which he said ensures cows can get out in spring quickly and efficiently.

“There is no point in growing lots of grass if it can’t be consumed by the cow,” added Eddie.

Grass Measurement

This has been taking place on a weekly basis on the farm since 2004 which he said helps the farm identify poor performing grass and what changes can be made.

“We aim to use grass well. We need to know how much we have. This ensures that it gives us higher milk solids, it helps to lower the cost of milk production and allows for ease of management in a simple system. As we know what the farm is growing we can establish the correct stocking rate for our farm."

Lifestyle

Despite all these technical achievements Eddie feels that the main factors in the farm’s success are that he has the right people and the right cows so that he can achieve a balanced lifestyle and spend time with his family.

“Our farm jigsaw is simply made up of three critical pieces - grass, people and cows. There is nothing fancy to what we do, but what we do we try to do right, and to make sure that we review and set achievable targets for ourselves,” he said.

“It’s about having the right people that look after the right cow with the right grass in front of them, so we can achieve our goals. You’re better off having two staff working 40 hours a week rather than one guy working 80 hours and you’re not working crazy hours then.

“Every tonne of grass is worth €180/t per hectare to us, that’s why we have to surround ourselves with good people and have an easy care cow that can look after herself, that we milk every day and only see for calving, breeding and herd test after that.”

In 2017, Eddie who runs a 116ha dairy farm with his wife Fiona and parents Denis and Nora near Golden, Co Tipperary won the prestigious Irish Grassland Farmer of the Year award.

Eddie received his Certificate in Farming from Pallaskenry Agricultural College in the early 2000s and subsequently worked for the Farm Relief Services and ran a farm near his own home from 2002-2005.

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