The CellCheck Milking for Quality Best 500 Awards are one of the highlights of the farming year. They are an opportunity to recognise and celebrate the excellent udder health on over 500 dairy farms.

Dairygold Co-op: prevention of mastitis is the key to low SCC on the Hannon farm. David and Eileen farm with their sons, Patrick, Mark, Danny and David’s Father Donal in Kildorrey, Cork.

What these 500 farmers and discussion groups achieve each year may be just part of their normal farming routine, but for others it is an inspiration.

Lisavaird Co-op Finbarr: Cait and Peter O’Neill live in Knocks, Ballineen West Cork where they farm with their family.

The CellCheck awards first started in 2014 and are awarded to the 500 suppliers with the lowest annual average somatic cell count (SCC). In its first year, all winners had an SCC of 103,000 cells/ml or less. Six years later, the winning range has reduced to 73,000 cells/ml.

Kerry Agribusiness: Patrick is farming on the Dingle Peninsula in west Kerry and has been supplying milk to Kerry Agribusiness for the past 25 years.

Nationally we have seen the same positive trend in the quality of milk produced. In the last 10 years, there has been reduction in the national average bulk tank SCC of almost 100,000 cells/ml, to 176,000 cells/ml in 2019. This is a testament to the hard work of Irish dairy farmers, and collaboration within the industry.

Tipperary Co-op: Oliver is farming in the heart of the Golden Vale where he is running a grass-based spring calving system.

When I talk to the winners each year, I am struck by how surprised many of them are to be considered a “winner”. They take great pride in producing top-quality milk and acknowledge that keeping mastitis well controlled makes life much easier.

Nigel Daunt started milking cows in 2017 after converting from a suckler-beef system. Nigel’s key points in terms of mastitis control are: timely post-milking teat disinfection, giving cows a long dry period, and keep the cows relaxed.

So how do they do this? What these winners have in common is that they are brilliant at the basics and pay attention to detail. For them, practices such as milk recording, good post-milking teat disinfection, hygiene at milking, regular machine maintenance and early detection of mastitis and high SCC cows are non-negotiables.

Drinagh Co-op: Farming in Leap, west Cork, Richard and Narelle Jennings along with their two children, Ian and Ellie and Richard’s father Noel run a Holstein Friesian herd.

Remember, there is nothing magical about how these farmers achieve the exceptional SCC levels – it’s about doing small things and doing them well.

North Cork Creameries: Daniel runs a spring-calving, grass-based farming system in Knocknagoshel, near Tralee where his herd is predominately Holstein Friesian.

Discussion Group Competition

Producing low Somatic Cell Count (SCC) milk is an on-oing challenge for Irish dairy farmers.

Centenary Thurles Co-op: Martin and Caroline farm near Shinrone, Co Offaly. Their Holstein Friesian cows average production is 6,000l, with 4.1 % butterfat and 3.42 % protein.

Over the past three years, as part of the CellCheck Milking for Quality Awards, Teagasc and AHI, supported by ICBF, have run a FBD-sponsored discussion group category, focusing on producing low-SCC milk and on reducing SCC levels among group members.

Arrabawn Co-op: Winner Martin and Margaret farm close to Athenry. The Coffey’s achieved an average of 43,00 SCC/ml for 2019.
Around 20 groups containing 300 members participated each year. This year, the milk supplied by competing discussion groups averaged 155,000 cells/ml.

Aurivo Co-op: Joe Higgins a third-generation farmer, farming at Hillstreet Co Roscommon. Joe and his wife Olive and their four children run the family business.

This year the group with the lowest average bulk milk SCC was the Ballygiblin Discussion Group based on either side of the Cork-Tipperary border. The group is chaired by John Geary and facilitated by John McCabe and Padraig McCormack of Teagasc.

Jerry and Carmel Keohane: Barryroe Co-op, Jerry Keohane farms with his wife Carmel in Ballintemple Clonakilty and their family have farmed their land for six generations. They were finalists in the 2020 NDC and Kerrygold Quality Milk Awards.

This 12-strong group supply Dairygold Co-op and had an average bulk milk SCC of 125,000 cells/ml. Previous winners in the category were Midlands-based Pasture Apprentices and the Clare-based Bunratty Discussion Groups in 2018 and 2019 respectively.

Lee Strand Dairies: the Groves family have always taken great pride in farming. Ivan, with the help of his brother Niall, also won the Lee Strand Quality Milk Award.

The group with the greatest reduction in bulk milk SCC in 2019/20 compared to the average of the previous two years (2017/18 and 2018/19) was the Kenmare Discussion Group.

Boherbue Co-op: Eoin and Mary O'Riordan run a spring calving dairy herd in Boherbue, Co Cork and this is the third year in succession for the O’Riordan’s to win the CellCheck Individual Co-op Award.

Supplying Kerry, the 13-strong group is chaired by Pat Randles and facilitated by Teagasc adviser Kevin Stagg. The group reduced the average SCC of milk supplied in 2019/20 by 18,000 cells/ml to 155,000 cells/ml.

Judges: Finola McCoy, AHI, George Ramsbottom, Teagasc and Kevin Downing ICBF

Lakeland Dairies: Sean Doyle farms with his wife Ena on the Meath/Cavan border, where their herd of British Friesian cows are at grass from late February to November.