Buying land is difficult enough for a farm business but installing a new milking parlour, new collecting yard and new handling facilities shows the investment farmers need to take on to make the dairy enterprise sustainable.

Vincent and Conor O’Brien have bought land and installed a 24-unit herringbone parlour at Kilmurry, near Loughrea, over the last five years since Conor decided to stay home farming full-time in 2017.

Now, the O’Briens are farming close to 100ha with 45ha available for grazing around the parlour. In 2020, they milked 115 cows and, this year, they are milking 128 cows.

The plan is to consolidate at this number for the moment.

Spring calving is the name of the game – no milk supplied in January and a dribble in December. High solids milk from grass is the plan with work streamlined as much as possible between the team to make it work.

A lot of work has gone into reseeding, soil testing and getting the most from grazing with management weekly such as measuring, on-off grazing in wet weather, etc.

The O’Briens put a strong emphasis on the environment and have a dedicated wildlife habitat with most of the paddocks surrounded by whitethorn trees and they are constantly planting more to thicken the ditches every autumn.

Milk quality was an issue in the old parlour but the investment in the new parlour and a tidy-up of the herd is paying dividends now. Some culling of chronic bad cows had to carried out. Milk records were used to select the cows for culling and teat dipping before and after milking was introduced. Cluster flush has been installed in the new parlour to prevent any issues in terms of cross contamination.

About 40% of the herd get teat sealer only at drying off, while the rest get Terrexine or Cobacton as recommended with sensitivity tests completed before tubes are purchased.

The other big focus for Conor has been breeding and each year a lot of time is spent selecting the team of AI sires required.

In 2020, over 13 sires were selected with the selection criteria EBI, milk solids and fertility – in that order.

Breeding starts on 22 April so cows are calving in late January and finished by the end of April.

The goal is to get towards 500kg of milk solids per cow and pay down the investment that has been made in the farm.