Farm Ireland

Friday 24 November 2017

Shrewd investments key to a dairy success story

The Delahunty's herd EBI is €129 and the average yield is 5,359 litres at 4.41pc fat and 3.56pc protein
The Delahunty's herd EBI is €129 and the average yield is 5,359 litres at 4.41pc fat and 3.56pc protein
Jim Delahunty, centre, has been ably assisted this spring by student Robert Austin, left, and, for some time, Teagasc adviser Michael Hogan
Declan O'Brien

Declan O'Brien

The dairy operation of Jim and Pauline Delahunty, at Ballykinash, Carrig, Co Tipperary, is one of the finest you'll visit.

Located near the county bounds with Offaly, just outside the town of Birr, it attracted a good crowd for a Teagasc open day last Wednesday.

National EBI winner in 2006, Jim has built the business on the back of a targeted breeding policy, excellent grass management and knowing his costs and margins.

The Delahuntys farm 58.7ha (145ac), which includes 29.9ha (75ac) of a milking platform, and a 28.7ha out-farm, which is used for replacement stock and silage.

On these lands Jim carries 110 spring calving cows supplying a 592,000 litre quota, as well as 46 replacement heifers and 50 calves. This gives a stocking rate of 3.7LU/ha (1.5LU/ac) on the milking platform, 2.7LU/ha on the farm as a whole.


The farm's vital figures are impressive. The average yield per cow last year was 5,359 litres at 4.41pc fat and 3.56pc protein.

Last year, his common production costs (his costs before allowing for labour interest and lease charges) came to 14.7c/l, which gave a margin of 18.3c/l on an average milk price 33.3c/l. This equates to a margin of €980/cow or €2,650/ha and places him firmly in the top 10pc of all dairy farmers nationally.

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One of the striking features of the Arrabawn supplier's operation has been its rapid expansion over the last six years.

In 2006, Jim was milking 48 cows but five years later his herd size has more than doubled.

"Quota was the only limiting factor for us. Once the quota trading scheme came in at the end of 2006 I decided to buy," Jim says.

In the intervening five years he has spent €59,000 on the quota purchases, including 81,000 litres bought at 16c/l this year. This has taken his quota from 249,000 litres to the current 592,000 litres. Jim is adamant his decision to buy quota was correct.

"I couldn't afford to gamble on a super levy," he says.

Jim has always kept a close eye on his costs and margins and has been completing the profit monitor each year since 1996.

"I always had the facts to back up the quota purchases," he says.

Investment in buildings and machinery was limited during this period from 2006 to 2009 even though he was severely short of housing. However, in 2010 he invested €80,000 in a cubicle house and slatted slurry tank which took the number of cubicles to 138.


"I had the stock on the ground when I went to the banks for money. You're in a better position when you're talking to banks about what you're actually making than basing your figures on projected earnings," he says.

All of the expansion took place from within the herd, with the number of replacement heifers increasing in line with milking cows.

Jim has used all AI bulls on the herd since 1995. The focus initially was on bulls that produced high solids and later on high EBI sires.

The average herd EBI is €129 but that of the replacement heifers and calves is €145 and €147 respectively.

The aim is to increase herd EBI. The average EBI of the bulls chosen for the cows this year is €228. The bulls include SOK, UPH, KOZ, and BHZ. For the heifers he's using sires with low calving difficulty such as KGZ and KXV.

Jim maintains the farm is at the limit in terms of stocking rate and any further growth in output will have to come from increasing milk solids produced per hectare.

The herd currently has an average mild solids output of 440kg/cow or 1,561kg/ha off of the milking platform.

"The aim has to be increasing average yields to 6,000 litres and solids to 500kg. That may sound ambitious but 470-480kg is possible," Jim says.

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