Two decades ago, Michael McCarthy’s herd was wiped out by BSE, but he has returned to take the top prize at the 2021 National Dairy Council (NDC) and Kerry Agribusiness Quality Milk Awards.
Early half a century Michael began helping his father around his family in western Limerick, before taking over in 1990 with a herd of 46 dairy cows.
A decade later, BSE struck, but he recovered and now has 170 high-yielding pedigree Holstein-Friesian in his Silmhuiré herd.
Michael and his wife Mary Ita Farm with their son Alex, a qualified mechanic who returned to the farm four years ago to become the sixth generation.
“It’s no work at all when you love what you’re doing,” Michael told visitors at an open day hosted by Teagask, NDC and Kerry Agribusiness.
“I love the work I’m doing and I’ve never wanted to do anything else.”
The 104ha (257ac) farm spans 1.2 km, with the farthest land being used primarily for silage. 64ha dairy platform is owned and the rest is on lease.
The herd consists of 170 spring-calving cows, plus 60 0-1-year-olds, and 60 1-2-year-olds on the milking platform at an overall stocking rate of 2.2LU/ha and 2.9LU/ha .
Alex’s brother James – who graduated from Salesian Agricultural College, Pallaskanery, last year and works off-farm with Carey Agribusiness – helps out during the busy period.
The work of silage-making, reseeding, slurry spreading and hedge-cutting is done by the contractors.
Both daughters Michelle and Catherine are building professional careers.
90 percent of the land is considered dry, “a very dry June can be a problem for grass growth” and all of the land has been reforested over the years. The family does rigorous soil tests.
About a third of the meadow now has some element of clover, and the use of chemical fertilizer has been reduced to 25 pcs.
Michael did most of the construction work himself at the farmyard. He rarely lets a season pass without adding or improving buildings and facilities.
The most recent addition was the construction and expansion of the calf housing to facilitate fully mechanized cleaning with fewer loaders.
“We look to get rid of the wheelbarrow and the brush and shovel if we can,” Michael said.
The milking facility has been increased from 16 units to 22 units of herringbone. No further expansion is envisaged with emphasis on quality rather than quantity.
Energy saving is a priority. A new outdoor milk silo with heat exchange unit was installed in 2019. Along with a gas water-heating system, a variable-speed milk pump, a plate cooler with fitted solenoid switches to control water usage, and LED lighting throughout were also installed.
Michael continues to herd for increased solids, with a smaller type of cow.
“I breed from a cow with less than 3.60 pc pr and 4 pc fat and we have been able to choose a lot more solids, but fewer cows to move on,” he said. “We are moving to solid milk and reducing the size of the cow and reducing the yield.”
Over 86 percent of the herd now calves within six weeks, and with early calves, over several months of their lactation, the herd averages 25L/day at 1.92kg solid cows/day.
Individual cows have recorded annual yields of over 9,000 liters with several classified EX and VG.
Michael has always wanted to improve the technology on the farm.
“Especially with heat detection, because we found that some systems were not satisfactory and were releasing heat,” he said. “I would not recommend some of them. They are not fit for purpose, just hit and miss.”
He is using sexual semen for replacement reproduction, with variable results.
“Some bulls disappointed us badly last year and some were very good – at 70 pcs heifers – and some bulls were as low as 20 pcs,” he said.
“We used eight bulls this year as compared to five last year to reduce the risk of the bulls not performing well.
“We got 22 heifers out of sexed semen and 21 heifers out of normal semen and found that sexed semen is working cheaper.
“We are also seeing that some cows that did not keep sex semen last year, have not kept this year either, even though they had solids and had fertility.
“So I believe there are bulls that are not suitable for sexual semen as well as cows that are not suitable for sexual semen.
“You have to be very selective. I don’t think all bulls are suitable for use as sexual semen.
“We select the best cows with at least 4 pc of fat and want a cow that produces a good calf that is also suitable for the beef industry, because that also has a return and that is all that matters. Is.”
About 30 heifers are added to the herd every year; The 47 cows in the herd are in their fifth lactation, with an average EBI of €166, compared to a heifer in their first lactation with an average EBI of €176.
Importance of cleanliness and keeping SCC low
Cleanliness is the key to McCarthy’s winning formula.
Milk production in 2021 at 4.20pc butterfat and 3.50pc protein, with an average total bacterial count of 4,000, a somatic cell count (SCC) of 108,000 and a thermodiuretics of 126,000, set them apart.
Don Crowley of Clonakilty College compared the quality of the farm with an estimated €50m total annual loss incurred by the region.
“A lot of farmers think it’s in the milk and fines where they’re losing all the money,” he told Open Day.
“But in reality it is reducing, production losses and lost bonuses which are the major disadvantages.
“The milk skipped and the fine is only a small amount of the actual loss.
“If you have a cell count between 100,000 and 200,000, it indicates that 20 pcs of cows in the herd have a cell count problem.”
Mr Crowley said that monthly milk recordings at McCarthy Farms gave him an advantage, as did selective dry cow treatment, which he has been doing since 2017 under the Kerry Agribusiness Program.
In the most recent dry period, more than 80 percent of the herd received only teat sealer. This has significantly reduced the amount of antibiotic use.
McCarthy also wears gloves for all milkings; They pre-dip and wipe the teats with a disposable towel; And they use teat spray after every milking.
The machine is washed with hot water immediately after milking, and receives an eight-minute wash with water at 80⁰C and a chlorine-free detergent morning and night.
The tank is sterilized daily and de-scaled twice weekly.
How a clover based diet can improve milk quality
Clover based diet could pave the way for new market opportunities for milk.
Teagask’s Jonathan Magan told farmers on an open day at McCarthy’s farm that research at Moorpark has found that clover and multi-species sward diets have an effect on milk quality, taste and aroma.
He also noted that the findings suggest that “different proteins are present in the milk of individual cows, and breeding for a particular protein in the milk may become a means of adding value to the milk”.
Moorpark’s Deirdre Hennessy said that compared a grass-only grazing system receiving 250 kg N/ha over eight years, with a grass/white clover system receiving 150 kg N/ha, 2.74 LU in both areas. /ha stock.
They found that the amount of grass increased only in the form of grass/white clover with an annual average clover content of 20pc.
Milk production on grass/white clover was increased as was nitrogen use efficiency.
Alex McCarthy said the clover has now been extended to one-third of the field at varying levels, with the intention of increasing the clover mix.
This season there was no nitrogen spread on a paddock and they were very satisfied with the growth.
Farm fertilizer use has dropped by 25 percent and the intention is to continue the change.