Video: 'The key is to have good facilities for a larger herd' - Tipp farmer on achieving ambitious expansion targets

Paddy O'Gorman on his farm at Rathkeevan in South Tipperary
Paddy O'Gorman on his farm at Rathkeevan in South Tipperary

Martin Ryan

Doubling the size of his dairy herd was a challenging undertaking for Paddy O'Gorman, but simultaneously targeting higher output per cow was an even more difficult objective.

"It was challenging, I suppose, but the key was to get the management right on the farm, and have good facilities for the larger herd," he says.

Milk yield has increased from 4,330 lt/cow to 5,117 lt/cow while stocking rate has increased from 2.08 LU/Ha to 2.79 LU/Ha since 2014. A net profit of €678 per cow in 2017 was the highest to date and the expansion plan to milk 200 cows in 2019 on the South Tipperary farm is on target.

The farm at Rathkeevan, outside Clonmel, is part of the Teagasc/Glanbia Monitor Farms Programme.

Paddy opened his farm to like-minded farmers last week as an example of what can be achieved with forward planning coupled with good management.

"The workload in the spring increased and there was the management of having to take on additional help for the bigger workload at peak, but with the more compact calving it was over a shorter period of time," says Paddy.

The farm is being run by Paddy with a full-time student on a dairy management course, "which means that there is always someone full-time on the farm". Additionally, his father Michael, although retired from practical farming, is always on hand to lend help or give valuable advice.

Student help

Paddy believes that the present structure with the assistance of the student and some help from his father is "very workable" for the planned 200-cow herd.

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Inside the farmyard, "it is all about having good facilities" which a capital investment in excess of €500,000 has provided, "and the milking and wash-up can be completed in an hour-and-a-half".

On the farm, he is a strong advocate that "good grass management is key and that means walking the farm once or twice a week, because you can't manage properly unless you know what grass is on the farm".

Paddy grew up on the farm but went on to study structural engineering in Cork Institute of Technology before fulfilling his interest in world travel by spending a year in Australia. He describes his year Down Under as a useful experience.

"It helped me to be more open-minded and to learn to learn - to research information. These are skills I use on my farm today," he says.

His parents, Michael and Maria, ran a dairy and beef enterprise.

When Paddy returned to take over the running of the family farm in 2009, they had 100 cows in the dairy herd and all calves were kept on the farm.

After completing his Green Cert course, he became actively involved in farmer discussion groups as a means of finding solutions, and keeping up to date with the new ways of doing things.

He had increased the dairy herd to 140 cows by 2014 when he decided to focus 100pc on dairy farming to supply manufacturing milk to Glanbia.

Paddy was a willing volunteer when invited to join the Teagasc/Glanbia Monitor Farm Programme aimed at helping dairy farmers promote sustainable growth post-quotas.

His five-year plan drawn up for the programme was ambitious. The target is to have 200 cows in the herd by 2019 on a milking platform of 60ha.

Now on schedule to achieve this target, does he envisage further expansion of the herd?

"Not at the moment. I want to concentrate on getting more out of the farm here now," he says.

"I feel it is very important to have another interest outside of the farm, and you need to be able to get away from it at times," he adds. "I do a bit of navigating in motor sport."

Paddy is a keen follower of rallying.

He says the rallying trips give him a chance to switch off and then return refreshed to the farm.

Net profit per hectare doubled between 2014 and 2017

With a capital investment of €2,700/cow, all costs and cash flow is monitored very carefully to support the investment on infrastructure and to ease the management workload.

The investment involved a new milking parlour and bulk tank (€295,000), additional housing and storage (€190,000), field infrastructure, silage slab and other ancillary improvements (€56,000).

The overall net profit per dairy hectare has more than doubled, increasing from €600 to €1,289 between 2014 and 2017. During the same period, net profit per cow increased from €563 to €678.

Paddy has increased average milk yield from 4,330 litres per cow in 2014 to 5,117 in 2017, with milk solids per cow increasing from 337kg to 416kg in that time, and milk solids per dairy hectare have gone up from 723 in 2014 to 1,207 in 2017.

The improvement in herd performance has been across all categories. Butterfat has increased from 4.04pc to 4.26pc and protein from 3.52pc to 3.63pc. On the costings side, total production cost/lt has dropped from 25.66c/lt to 24.19c/lt, and veterinary costs are down from 1.53c/lt to 1.32c/lt.

The impact of the drought conditions in 2018 was significant, with grass production down by 3.5-4t/ha. Some silage had to be fed and 1t/cow meal fed.

Ensuring that the heifers coming in are capable of continuing the overall improvement in herd performance has been a focus of attention for Paddy.

Four years ago he had 70pc of heifers calving between 22-26 months. By last year that had increased to 100pc, targeting the advice that over 90pc of heifers should calve at two years of age for economic and lifetime productivity reasons.

With the priority for more compact spring calving, the six-week calving rate has been improved from 69pc in 2014 to 85pc in 2017.

This has been achieved by focusing on improving live weight gain, which is a big factor in heifer performance.

All heifers are now weighed and body condition scored regularly. Acting on this information, he knows which heifers need more attention to achieve target condition.

The heifers are then split into two groups: lighter and heavier animals, with the lighter ones getting preferential feeding. All bull calves are now sold rather than rearing them, which means more grass is available for spring grazing by the yearling replacements, with the lighter group turned out earliest.

Since spring 2016, easy calving dairy AI sires have been used on the heifers which has worked well and has contributed to the higher average weight at the start of the breeding season.

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