Farm Ireland

Thursday 21 February 2019

'I knew at a young age that it was all I would ever want to do'

Youth and experience is proving a winning formula on a Co Kildare farm

John Coakley Snr; John Coakley, Thomas Coakley and Pat Fanning on the Old Carton Farm, Maynooth, Co Kildare. Photo: Tony Gavin
John Coakley Snr; John Coakley, Thomas Coakley and Pat Fanning on the Old Carton Farm, Maynooth, Co Kildare. Photo: Tony Gavin
Catherine Hurley

Catherine Hurley

Young dairy farmer John Coakley says that although he wants to see an increase in numbers on the pedigree herd at home, college is his priority for now.

The first-year agricultural student is studying in Gurteen College in Tipperary, not too far from his home place in Old Carton, Maynooth, on the Meath-Kildare border.

"The big plus was that Gurteen was so near, it's only an hour-and-a-half from home when cows are calving, and jobs are plenty," explains John, adding that the college in Roscrea being so practical made it an easy decision.

"I grew up on the farm and I knew at a young age that it was all I would ever want to do, I never really looked at anything else," says the 19-year-old.

The 120-acre farm is home to 90 pedigree Holstein cows, yielding on average 8,500L. Some 43 acres are devoted to a grazing platform, where the furthest walk for the herd is 700m.

The remainder is used to stock dry cattle or for silage.

John has taken on more responsibility in recent years as his father, John Snr, took a step back from the farm and is now working full-time with his waste disposal business.

"Dad went full-time off farm, but before this he was milking morning and evening while also doing a day's work - something had to give," explains John.

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"Mum, Carol, is a nurse and plays a key role on the farm, book-keeping and providing hot dinners for the men. After all, an empty sack can't stand!"

When John was facing the Leaving Cert and his father was getting busier with off-farm work, they decided to hire some more staff.

In November 2016, Pat Fanning joined the team in Old Carton.

The Coakleys met the former dairy herd manager for Clongowes Wood College farm at a dispersal sale a few years ago and had kept in contact since.

"We knew we could trust him and so we asked him if he would like to join us in Maynooth, and it has been all go since," John says.

Herd performance

Since Pat started working with the Coakleys, the herd performance has improved dramatically. Milk solids alone have increased by 90kg, while the calving interval has also been reduced.

"His experience with cows has shown us how to get the most out of our cows through feeding.

"Both him and Dr Morgan Sheehy, a nutritionist with Devenish, have helped bring on the herd an awful lot," explains John. The split ­autumn- and spring-calving herd is set to produce 700kg of milk solids this year, based on production so far, all of which is supplied to Glanbia.

The €76 EBI herd had a calving interval of 397 days, on average, last year, all the while keeping Somatic Cell Count (SCC) at bay at just 80,000 on average.

The herd is buffer-fed, with 1.9t of meal used in 2017 which, according to John, suits their type of cow and has seen the cows keep condition while also tightening the breeding season.

John hopes to improve milk solids in the future, through better breeding and tweaking the farm management slightly.

"We're going to work with what we have and improve from there, hopefully get up towards the 10,000L mark," he says.

The breeding season for the spring calvers lasts 12 weeks and all AI is used, while a teaser bull is let run with the cows. No bull was used this year to clean up, which John says will change next year.

"We'll go back to a Friesian stock bull next year because of the increase in repeat numbers," he says.

The herd runs through a fully automated eight-unit DeLaval parlour, which was built in 2014 and was designed to be able to extend out to have extra units in the future.

The parlour operates a feed to yield system, which John says is great for the mixed spring- and autumn-calving herd and the different operators.

"Cows are fed whatever I allocate for them, so we know exactly who's being given what, regardless of who's milking that day," he explains.

At the moment, the farm is operating a calving system whereby autumn calvers are calving down outside, as long as the weather allows.

However, John says that if the herd goes up in numbers they will have to look at a more intensive indoor system and also possibly look into zero grazing.

"We'll have to look where we are in three or four years' time when college is finished," he says.

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