With 136 out of 185 cows calved in four weeks on the Murphy farm in Effin, Co Limerick, calving is beginning to plateau.

The calving start date was 1 February, but there was about 20% calved at this point, Kieran Murphy farms alongside his parents, Declan and Eileen, where they will calve down 185 cows this spring.

They plan to milk 170 cows throughout the year on a 48ha milking platform and farming 112ha overall.

After completing a degree in dairy business at UCD, Kieran worked in the fertiliser industry for six years before returning home to farm full-time.

Pictured: 10 single-calf pens, which hold calves for their first feed.

The Murphys used to milk 80 cows, but they have been able to expand through buying and leasing additional land in recent years.


Like most farmers, the Murphys are well behind in terms of area grazed compared to their target. Land type at Effin is flat, with relatively free-draining soils.

The milking platform would be considered dry, while there are wetter areas on outblocks. Kieran says grazing has been a struggle in February.

“By the start of this week, there was only about 11% of the farm grazed. Last year, we had over 30% grazed by the end of February; usually we would get about 20% or more grazed by 1 March. Graze-outs haven’t been as desired. Cows are going out to grass full of silage,” Kieran says.

The milking platform is divided by roads into three blocks. There is a tunnel linking up two blocks. Cows only graze in the third block during the day, so they don’t cross the road in the dark.

With drier weather earlier this week and more settled weather forecasted for next week, Kieran reckons he’ll be able to catch up on area grazed quickly, especially as they have so many cows calved.

In late January, Kieran spread 41% of the milking platform with 2,500 gallons of slurry with a trailing shoe. All paddocks with a cover less than 500kg DM/ha were spread with slurry.

No fertiliser has been spread so far this spring. Kieran hopes to cover 100% of the farm with urea this week.

Heifers are bred on an outside block. The Murphys AI for the first week and inject heifers with prostaglandin after that.

He aims to spread 30 units on ground that hasn’t been spread with slurry and top up the paddocks, which have been spread with 15 to 20 units per acre.

The average farm cover on the farm is 980kg DM/ha, with cows currently in pre-grazing yields of 1,000kg DM/ha. About 50% of the farm has a good level of clover, with 8% to 10% of the milking platform reseeded every year.

“There are some zero N paddocks on the farm which haven’t had chemical nitrogen. These paddocks are spread with 2,500g/acre in spring and that is all nitrogen for the year. In the main grazing season, there is 0-7-30 spread every second round, but Teagasc would recommend to spread dairy washings throughout this period."

The Murphys are awaiting soil test results to determine their P allowance, which could change their management for the coming year.

In 2023, the herd produced 531kg MS per cow. This was produced from 4.35% fat and 3.54% protein, with a somatic cell count of 78,000.

Cows were supplemented with 1,200kg of meal per cow, which has crept up from below a tonne due to weather conditions.

The farm is in the 220kg N/ha region on the nitrates map, but this hasn’t affected the farm, as they are farming at 210kg N/ha overall.


The herd is currently producing 28 litres. Fat and protein is 4.7% and 3.29% respectively, with the cell count at 56,000. Cows are out on grass during the day, fed 5kg of meal at milking time and have access to red clover bale silage at night, as they are still housed by night. These were made from a red clover sward on an out block.

With the weather slightly improving, Kieran plans to continue grazing paddocks around 1,000kg DM/ha, allowing him to get through ground quicker. His target is to try to get through as much ground as possible between now and St Patrick’s Day.


Eileen is in charge of calf-rearing on the farm. There is accommodation on the farm for 130 calves in two separate sheds. Calves are first brought to single calf pens for their first feed. After this, these calves are moved to group pens.

Bull calves are taken to another shed and fed whole milk, while heifer calves are trained to an automatic calf-feeder with four stations.

There is a calf jacket for every calf, both heifers and bulls. The Murphys feel that calves are stronger and are in a better position to fight any disease or sickness.

Eileen is also using a biological feed additive called Precision Microbes on calves this year. Each calf gets 30ml for 30 days and the dosage is doubled if they get sick, which is administered with a syringe.

This is the first year they are using it as a preventative, as they used it last year for sick calves. At €10/calf, Eileen is using it to reduce cases of scour on the farm; as it’s their first year, they have no comparison as of yet.

So far, there haven’t been any issues with scour on the farm, but Eileen said it is not until they get into March before they start to see problems.

There has been one case of milk fever so far. Every cow gets a calcium bolus from second calvers on.

The farm has previously had issues with milk fever, as high potassium (K) in silage decreases calcium absorption.


The Murphys go through every cow in the herd individually and allocate a bull from their bull team to that cow.

Their main focus has been to match high-volume cows with bulls that have high milk percentages and vice versa. The best 50% EBI of the herd get a dairy bull and the remainder gets beef bulls.

Beef AI sires are easy calving, short gestation Hereford and Angus breeds.

Kieran is hoping to focus more on DBI in the coming year to increase the value of his calves. There are two or three regular customers who buy beef calves from the Murphys every year.

All dairy AI is conventional. They have used sexed semen in the past, but weren’t happy with conception results; as a result, about 20% of the calves born every year are dairy bulls. These bulls are sold for live export at three to four weeks old.

The herd is currently producing 28 litres.

The EBI of the herd is in the top 5% of herds, at €236. The herd is all Holstein Friesian with no Jersey genetics. Breeding plans are to pick bulls with +0.20% protein PTAs and +0.30% fat without losing kilos of fat and protein.

There is 100% AI done on the farm. Both Declan and Kieran can AI, and cows are inseminated twice a day. Heifers are bred on an outside block.

The Murphys AI for the first week and inject heifers with prostaglandin after that. They have thought of using a fixed time AI, but are turned off by the workload put on a bull for repeats, as most would come back within a day or two of each other.


There are three people working full-time on the farm: Kieran, Declan and Eileen. Kieran’s girlfriend Katie also helps out with feeding calves.

With three full-time on the farm, the Murphys carry out all machinery work themselves apart from baling and pit silage.

Kieran finds it allows him to carry out jobs when he wants where there is a short weather break, but also says he doesn’t use contractors, as the investment has been made in machinery on the farm.

Declan bought a zero grazer in 2013, as a large proportion of the farm was in outside blocks. The zero grazer is still on farm now and allows them to bring in fresh grass from outblocks in the shoulders of the year.