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APRIL 2019
Two of Ireland's outstanding young farmers were
contributors at a recent specialist dairy conference
organised by Irish Farmers Monthly in conjunction with
AXA Insurance and MSD Animal Health, early this month.
The event - titled `Fine-tuning Irish Dairy: Family,
Finanaces and Farm Management - was attended by
members of Matt Ryan's dairy discussion groups and
included topics ranging from labour management and
animal health protocols to environmental awareness
and managing family finances. PJ O' Keeffe, a former
winner of the Young Farmer of the Year title, and Eamon
Sheehan, a Nuffield Scholar and winner of the inaugural
MSD Prevention for Profit competition, outlined their
approaches to many of the challenges facing milk
producers today.
Professional profiles
In 2017 Eamon Sheehan, a recent entrant to dairying,
completed a Nuffield funded scholarship into microbial
management and its importance in the dairy and beef
industry. Originally from a suckler farm in Kilkenny,
Eamon converted to dairy five years ago. He travelled to
Singapore, China, Hong Kong, Philippines, Germany, UK,
USA, Holland and France to gain insights for his Nuffield
studies. Eamon's report offers recommendations for how
the industry can proactively develop strategies to deal
with the challenge presented by anti-microbial resistance.
He has put many of his recommendations into practice
on his farm. Eamon's Prevention for Profit competition
success will allow him to undertake further international
studies into how farmers across Europe are successfully
adopting preventative health practices on their farms.
Seven years ago Eamon was running a 120 cow suckler
herd. Since then the farm has been converted to dairy
farming with almost 200 cows calved down this Spring.
Eighty-five per cent of the herd calves down in the first
six weeks of calving with than three per cent of cows not
in calf after 12 weeks of breeding and just two out of 56
heifers were identified as not in calf after nine weeks of
breeding last year. Animal health management includes
a full disease prevention programme with vaccination
against IBR, leptospirosis, salmonella and calf scour. Calves
are vaccinated against clostridial diseases and Eamon also
operates a screening programme for Johne's disease. He
was described by MSD's Dr William Minchin, another
speaker at the IFM Dairy Conference, as a leading example
of the growing number of progressive farmers who now
use prevention rather than cure in their approach to herd
health, adding that it demonstrates the dramatic increase in
the use of preventative vaccines in Ireland, which has more
than doubled during the past decade.
Eamon's credentials as a progressive young dairy farmer
also include his grassland management skills. One-fifth
of the farm is reseeded each year and grass growth is
measured every week in the growing season. In 2017, the
Sheehan farm grew 15.4t of grass dry matter/ha. Last year
the figure was around 10t/ha, evidence of the impact of
the difficult spring weather and the summer drought,
particularly in the south east. As a result Eamon fed 1.5t of
meal/cow in 2018, compared to 750 kg in 2017. Through
purchasing a substantial amount of silage, he secured
enough feed to see him through last winter.
Callan dairy farmer PJ O' Keeffe has been previously cited
for his labour management efficiencies in running a large-
scale dairy herd. Born into dairy farming, PJ is another
young farmer rapidly gaining a reputation as a dynamic
and forward--thinking Irish milk producer.
Originally a mixed enterprise farm with dairy and beef,
when PJ's parents retired, he decided to concentrate on milk
production. The dairy herd has been expanded four-fold
to over 300 cows and much emphasis has been placed on
production efficiencies, particularly in the areas of labour
management and grass utilisation. He has reduced labour
requirements by outsourcing much of the machinery input for
the farm and last year built a rotary parlour to maximise cow
throughput and minimise milking time with optimal labour
requirements. Noted in the citation for his Young Farmer of
the Year Award for his environmental awareness, PJ has also
contributed strongly to his local community through Macra
na Feirme, IFA and the local GAA.
The future of dairy
At a recent dairy conference attended by Matt Ryan's dairy discussion groups two of Ireland's top
young dairy farmers addressed the attendees. Matt O'Kee e reports
Eamon Sheehan
PJ O' Kee e
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