'It was either once a day milking or get rid of the cows as I couldn't cope anymore'
A Waterford farming family had to rethink their approach to dairying following the loss of a beloved son and brother six years ago
In April 2009, Michael Wall hit a barrier. He'd just put in another 13 hour day on his own with his herd of 90 spring-calving cows. As he approached his 63rd year, he was dreading having to cope with the workload for the rest of the season.
It wasn't supposed to be this way. Three months earlier, the Wall family received the terrible news that their 27-year-old son and brother, Vincent, had tragically drowned in the flooded Tiber while attending a wedding in Rome. He was due to get married three weeks later, had built a house on the farm and was well into a herd expansion plan with his dad on the home place at Colligan, Co Waterford.
Vincent's sister, Gillian, took temporary leave from her job as a vet in Dublin to come home and help her dad out with the intense calving period. By April however, she had to return back to her job in Dublin, and suddenly Michael was facing life on the farm on his own. He knew something had to change.
"I talked to my local Teagasc adviser, Brian Hilliard, and the idea of going once-a-day (OAD) was discussed. It was never something that I'd considered before. I decided to give it a go when I worked out the cost of getting in additional labour to help me. It was that or else get rid of the cows, because I wasn't going to be able to cope, and I suppose in the back of my mind I was hoping that Gillian might come home, so I really didn't want to sell the cows," recalls Michael.
The following week, the cows were switched to OAD milking, and the herd has remained that way ever since.
In the meantime, Gillian left her job in the small animal practice in Bray to return home to the farm with her veterinarian husband, Neil.
"He wasn't from a farming background, and I didn't really know how to drive a tractor or milk cows, so it was all a bit of a trial-by-experiment for us, but seven years later, we wouldn't have it any other way," she says.
The performance of the herd is quite startling, given that it is producing the same amount of milk solids per cow as the Glanbia average.