Their approach to milk quality and maintaining standards on their farm is a team effort.
“Everything we do, we try to do right,” says Geraldine.
Eliminating waste, saving money and time
Having been through the Bord Bia Sustainable Dairy Assurance Scheme (SDAS) audit and participating in farm improvement schemes, such as Dairygold’s Lean Farm Programme, the Herlihys are continuously seeking to improve efficiency on their farm.
“We were doing a lot of good things anyway,” says Geraldine, “but these schemes taught us more about eliminating waste and saving money and time.”
Dairy farmers who are certified members of the Bord Bia SDAS, and who participate in a farm sustainability survey as part of their audit, are members of Origin Green.
SDAS and the carbon navigator allow Origin Green farmers to measure and benchmark their sustainability practices, helping them to identify efficiencies which they can improve on their own farm, which can also improve profitability.
Key improvement measures on dairy farms taking part in SDAS and the sustainability survey include increased Economic Breeding Index (EBI), longer grazing season, improved nitrogen use efficiency, improved slurry management and energy efficiency.
The Herlihys’ cows graze outside for up to 280 days per year, depending on the weather. They graze at 1,400kg DM/ha grass cover and measure the grass by eye, having learned their technique through discussion groups. They are also constantly reseeding areas of the farm.
“We’re always trying to get better-quality silage and let it out in the sun,” says Liam. “We spread lime and soil-test the farm regularly. This saves us an awful lot of money on fertiliser.”
Their herd is a pedigree Holstein and the Herlihys find that this breed is best suited to their farm.
“We keep less stock and produce more milk. It works for us. This breed has a better resale value as well.”
This year, the Herlihys installed an extra water heater in the milking parlour that runs on night-rate electricity, saving time and energy.
Everyone has to make an effort to protect the environment
To improve biodiversity and add shelter on the farm, the Herlihys planted hedgerows, plus beech and ash trees.
“I believe everyone has to make an effort to protect the environment,” says Geraldine.
In terms of the importance of schemes like Origin Green, that promote Ireland’s sustainable farming practices internationally, the Herlihys talk of their experience with a group of Chinese business people visiting their farm with Wyeth.
“It was their first time in Ireland. They were looking for reassurance and came to see the grass and how the milk was produced. They were very impressed by the standards on the farm and, in particular, the hygiene,” recalls Liam.
“Dairygold also told them how it tests the milk. They were greatly impressed by the safety, regulation and the traceability in this country.”
Dave Fitzgerald, who is Head of Sustainability and Business Continuity at Dairygold Co-op, says: “As a manufacturer of high-quality dairy nutritional ingredients, the Origin Green Programme is important to Dairygold, both at farm and processing level. It demonstrates to our customers that we are measuring and improving the sustainability of our supply chain and provides independent certification to prove it.”
The Herlihys were Munster winners in the FBD National Farm Yard Awards earlier this year.
“We are very proud of that,” says Liam. “Farming is something you grow into. When you mature, you see what a great life it is. But it’s a hard life too.”
Having lost his father, Tom, at the age of 16, Liam knows a thing or two about that. At the time he had just completed three months at Pallaskenry Agricultural College and was called home to manage the farm without completing his course.
Liam recalls how his mother, Nora, then aged 53, managed with both a farm to run and a family of four to raise.
“She was just brilliant,” he says “and we had great neighbours too who helped us out at the time.”
As well as raising three children – James, aged 21, Leanne, aged 18, and Daniel, aged 15 – Liam and Geraldine also have a fencing business. They’d both happily encourage their children into farming if they were interested.
“There’s a good future in it,” says Liam. “It’s a great life, but it can be a lonely life in some ways too. Farmers need to take care of their own health and not to stress too much. I’d like to think I’d be there for my kids to help them at weekends and enable them to go on holidays. It’s important to have a work-life balance.”