The rolling drumlins of Emyvale in Co Monaghan was the venue for the open day on the farm of the 2018 NDC/Kerrygold Quality Milk Award winners.

Darran and Denise McKenna are milking 109 cows off a 31-hectare milking platform right next to the village of Emyvale.

They won the award for the quality of the milk they send to their co-op, but they really demonstrate excellence in everything they do.

NDC award-winning family: Darran and Denise McKenna with (from left to right) Caragh, Daithí and Micheál. Missing from the picture is daughter Annie, four. \ Philip Doyle

Speaking on behalf of the judges, David Gleeson from Teagasc said that one of the questions they ask themselves when judging a farm is if they’d be happy to show a bus load of Chinese consumers around the farm.

“In this case, the answer is a definite yes as the farmyard, grassland management and animal performance are all excellent. They're great ambassadors for Irish dairying,” David said.

Darran is the main labour unit but is assisted by Cormack Watterson who works part time in the spring and does relief milking during the summer. Darran also has a student working for him in the spring.

“The student comes from March to May and is a big help during that busy period. I’m happy to take them and spend time teaching them as you’d never know in a few years’ time I might be looking for a farmer to take on and upskill one of my own children,” Darran said.

The McKenna farm is a real family farm. The eldest two children, Daithi and Caragh shot to fame after featuring in a Kerrygold video ad shown in the US.

The herd of cows are black and white Holstein Friesian of medium size and are good functional cows. The average EBI of the herd is €74 and last year they delivered 521kg of milk solids per cow to Lacpatrick Co-Op which has since merged with Lakeland Dairies.

Average somatic cell count (SCC) last year was 70,000 and total bacterial count (TBC) during 2017 (the reference year for the competition) was 8,000. The TBC rose to an average of 14,000 in 2018 which Darran attributes to an issue with the bulk tank. A new bulk tank has since been purchased and TBC is back now to less than 6,000.

The McKenna family with Minister Michael Creed. \ Philip Doyle


Darran is currently washing the machine with a detergent steriliser with a low level (2.4%) chlorine but will soon be moving to chlorine free in line with new industry rules.

David Gleeson explained that chlorine-based cleaning of milking parlours was leading to chlorate residues in infant formula and lactic acid in butter.

David said that when switching to chlorine-free products, more hot acid washes will be required, with at least three per week when using caustic-based powders. Using peracetic acid in an additional final rinse will also help. This can be left in the line with no pre-rinse before the next milking.

The McKenna farmyard is really well developed with everything under one roof. Two underpasses were built in 2016 and the cows are milked in a 16-unit parlour.

When asked what the plans were for the future, Darran said that he has no major plans to increase cow numbers in the immediate future.

“Over the next 10 years I just want to make the farm handier to run and take it from there.”

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