The calving season is in full swing on the O’Donovans’ farm in Drimoleague, west Cork, with 76% of the herd calved by three weeks. One fifth of the herd calved by their due date of 1 February, with mainly heifers in this cohort.

Aidan and Sean O’Donovan are milking 185 cows in the rolling hills of Drimoleague and their growing herd is beginning to consolidate.

Sean always milked on the home farm and Aidan spent a number of years in the building industry.

In 2012, Aidan rented a neighbouring farm and farmed it in his own right for a number of years before entering a partnership with his father Sean in 2016. In 2017, the pair invested in cubicles and slurry storage. They joined the herds together in 2018 and now milk 185 cows on a 54ha milking platform at a stocking rate of 3.4 cows per hectare.

The O’Donovans now farm 100ha and the nitrates changes haven’t affected them yet as their land is still in 250kg N/ha. The farm was at 225kg N/ha so a reduction to 220kgN/ha will have its implications.

The landscape of the west Cork farm is challenging.

Every paddock is a rolling hill with some heavy land added to the mix. But this hasn’t prevented Aidan from growing and utilising extra grass as he was a Grass10 host farmer in recent years.

Dry spell

“Throughout the dry spell in January, we were able to get 30-35% of the farm spread with 2,000 gallons per acre of slurry. We spread all the slurry ourselves with a tank and dribble bar. The land isn’t very suitable for a pipe system as the slurry would have to be pumped mostly up hill. Thankfully we can get to 90% of the farm with the tank,” says Aidan.

The O’Donovans haven’t spread any chemical nitrogen so far, but they plan to spread some urea in the next week or so if weather allows.


Like many farms around the country, grazing has been the biggest challenge this spring. With an opening cover of 1,020kg DM/ha, there is plenty of grass on the farm, but a poor start to February has meant Aidan could only graze cows for an hour or two on a couple of occasions. Graze outs have been less than satisfactory so far as he has only been able to get them out for an hour or two at a time.

Aidan says he would usually get cows out for three- to four-hour breaks other years, both morning and evening. He is a big believer in the benefits of early grazing that sets the farm up for second rotation. He would get 25-30% grazed most years but this year has been difficult.

The O’Donovans now farm 100ha and the nitrates changes haven’t affected them yet as their land is still in 250kg N/ha.

When weather begins to improve, he plans to intensively graze the first 30-40% of the farm with covers under 1,000kg DM/ha.

He says he will pull the reins in a small bit then as he still feels the first paddocks grazed will need 40-50 days recovery time.


On the calving side, once calves get colostrum, they are fed on transition milk for a week to 10 days. They are housed in single pens during this period and then transferred to a big group pen fed with an automatic feeder with three stalls.

Calves are trained for the first one or two feeds on the automatic feeder and from then on it is generally labour-free. The shed can rear 70 calves. All surplus calves are sold to Wicklow Calf Company, apart from 25 beef calves that are reared on an outfarm.

Spring has run smoothly so far with no cases of milk fever. Aidan feeds 1.5kg/cow/day of a dry cow nut over the winter period. He has found it to work very well as cows are in good condition for calving.

Labour on the farm consists of just Aidan and Sean, with Aidan doing all the night calving.

The pair are typically in the yard for 6.30am. They both start the cows off; with Sean staying on milking while Aidan does other jobs around the yard.

Aidan will rejoin Sean in the parlour to finish off and they both feed the calves together. Once calving finishes, Aidan takes up most of work in the milking parlour pit while Sean does the machinery work.

The group pen with three automatic feeders can rear 70 calves.

The O’Donovans carry out most of the machinery work on the farm themselves. They have their own slurry tank, fertiliser spreader and mower. Aidan says the only thing a contractor does is bringing in the pit silage and baling.


Three years ago, Sean and Aidan got collars for the cows. Aidan also does his own DIY AI on the farm. He says it’s very handy to be able to do it himself when using sexed semen. He can inseminate cows twice a day and isn’t waiting on a technician. All Jersey straws are now sexed to reduce male dairy calves.

Breeding is now 100% AI with no stock bull used after last year. Heifers have been on a fixed time AI programme for the last three years, and 40 out of 52 heifers held to the first serve.

With most the heifers calving in the first six to seven days, Aidan says the first two weeks of calving are very demanding, but it certainly pays off with longer days in milk and a longer interval between calving and mating. He plans to finish calving in the first days of April.

Aidan and Sean have joined the national genotyping programme this year. While Aidan said it is a great way to fast-track genetic progress in the herd, it hasn’t come without its issues.

“The cards have come back in time so far but we have had a few samples come back as errors. Samples have to be taken again which slows things a lot.” Aidan said.


Aidan has worked on improving clover content on the farm in recent years and uses combination of over-sowing and full reseeds every year.

“The clover has taken well in the over sowed paddocks, the only issue I see with it is docks creeping back in,” he says. “A couple of paddocks in particular haven’t received chemical nitrogen since April 2022.

“The first year a paddock is over sowed is difficult. The grass looked very hungry for nitrogen. There is a lot of extra management involved also grazing paddocks at 1,000kg Dm/ha.”

Looking ahead, Aidan says he will probably do a full reseed and questions whether the extra grass he would get from over sowing while the full reseed is out of rotation is worth it.

Herd profile: Jersey crossbreds and Holstein Friesians with €212 EBI

The O’Donovans’ herd is predominantly Jersey crossbreds and Holstein Friesian cows. The EBI of the herd is €212. The herd produces about 460kgMs per cow every year from 850kg of concentrates, and the milk is supplied to Drinagh Co-op.

The cows are currently milking 19 litres per cow per day. They are producing 4.53% protein and 4.34% butterfat from 3kg of meal. The herd is still some way off peak and is producing 1.9kg milk solids per cow per day.

While the topography of the farm means a lot of climbing, Aidan says the cows take no notice of it and there are no foot issues.

Cows are held while they are milked as they cross a public road. Once left off, Aidan lets them make their own way up the hill and doesn’t close them in until half an hour after leaving them off.