Farm Ireland

Friday 23 March 2018

More cows would mean working harder to stay still - how this dairy farmer plans to maximise his current herd

Kerry family honoured for four decades of true dedication

Three generations of the family exhibiting their stock, Peter Kennelly, Katie, Noreen and Marian and little Clodagh.
Three generations of the family exhibiting their stock, Peter Kennelly, Katie, Noreen and Marian and little Clodagh.

Martin Ryan

Farming on the edge of Banna Strand in North Kerry has not deterred Peter Kennelly from having a huge input into the activities of the Irish Holstein Friesian Association (IHFA) nationwide over the last four decades.

Tradition in the black and white breed runs deep into the fertile soil at Akeragh, outside Ardfert, where for generations they have been the chosen breed to receive a very strong family commitment.

While the herd has quadrupled in size, contributing its own share to the growth in popularity for dairy farming, it is still a family-run enterprise, something that is unlikely to change for the foreseeable future, because of the strong commitment to the breed by generation after generation.

Nonetheless, Peter's colleagues in the IHFA, will talk freely about the equal commitment which the Kerryman, and his family, have shown by support for the association and their regular presence at most association events, almost regardless of location or distance to be travelled over the decades.

Such is their appreciation of his involvement, they have decided to accord to him the highest honour in the IHFA and within a couple of months he will be wearing the ceremonial chain of office as IHFA national president.

"I am looking forward to it," he says from his home in the Kingdom last week. "It will mean a bit more travel for me - it will involve a two-and-a-half hour drive to the meetings at Portlaoise - but it is a great honour."

A colleague in the IHFA tells me that Peter will take it all in his stride because of his enthusiasm and dedication, recalling, "I was having a chat with him on the morning of the National Livestock Show at Tullamore Show as he was preparing cattle and he told me that he had left home at 3am."


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He was equally full of praise for the family commitment. "His daughters always accompany him at the shows, at times there will be three generations of the family taking part in the show ring.

"I was born into Friesian breeding," he says, pointing out that his father Teddy's choice of dairy breed was the black and white Friesians.

Four generations of the family - Front Row: Clodagh; Middle Row (L to R): Marian, Emer, Katie, Noirìn, Peter; Back Row (L to R): Teddy, Mary, Eileen.
Four generations of the family - Front Row: Clodagh; Middle Row (L to R): Marian, Emer, Katie, Noirìn, Peter; Back Row (L to R): Teddy, Mary, Eileen.

"I remember when he kept 25 cows here," adding that "they were milking cows on nearly every farm at that time but the number of dairy farmers has reduced and the herd size has increased a lot."

The same is true of the Akeragh herd which now numbers 100 Holstein Friesians.

"I don't think we are any better off today, because the price of all farm inputs has increased a lot since the 1980s and we were getting nearly as much for the milk that time as we are getting now," says Peter.

Nevertheless, expansion was necessary for survival and like other farmers he has become part of that trend.

"I started off with a few Jerseys when I was going to national school but I didn't stay with them and the black and white would always be my number one breed," he says.

"We had half and half British Friesian and Holstein up to 2003 when the herd was liquidated and when I restocked the herd I went for all Holstein-Friesian," he explains. The herd was rebuilt following the brucellosis by selecting cows and heifers from good cow families with at least three generations of VG or EX. "We have built on from there, sourcing from the best herds from all parts of the country as we did not stick to any one in particular if the background was good enough."

They were all carefully selected. "We bought from most of the 26 counties when we bought back at that time and most of those bloodlines are in the herd today," says Peter.

He has a practical approach to expanding the herd above 100 cows. "I think the herd is capable of producing extra milk and I would rather put an extra bit of feeding into the number we have than trying to increase the numbers," he says.

"That is about what myself and the lads here can manage and if I increased numbers we would have to get more help and we would have to put in a lot more cows to justify the extra cost and then we would be back to the same position again.

"It would amount to working harder to stay still and there is not much point in going that way with a lot more responsibility and extra costs and nothing to gain from it."

Future of the Breed

On the overall future for the breed, he believes that in the new climate for dairy farming with the removal of the milk quota restriction, the breed will continue to expand and that between the British Friesian and the Holstein and Jersey there is enough variation in black and white and red and white to suit every breeder.

"I don't think that there is going to be a lot of Jersey introduced to the herds. Some of the larger herds will go for them, but why should you keep three cows when the same amount of milk can be produced from two cows," he says.

"I like the Holstein breed and I think that they can produce the milk and we can all improve the solids no matter what breed we are in but I think that volume is necessary as well to be able to produce the extra kg solids."

Peter points out that there are many herds in the country producing very high volumes of milk and high solids as well and the British Friesian is a good option for the breeder who is not keen on the Holstein.

"I was very impressed with Michael Spillane's herd at the Pure Friesian Open Day last year in South Tipperary. They had size and width and depth and a massive amount of milk and good solids as well," he says.

"I think if people don't like the Holstein, the British Friesian is also a great producer of milk and solids."

Peter and his wife, Eileen are often joined at events by their daughters, Marian, Emer, Katie, Noirín, son, Ted, granddaughter, Clodagh, and Peter's parents, Teddy and Mary who maintain a great interest in the herd.

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