Impeccable hygiene and attention to detail are the first things that struck the judges as they entered the Ryan family farm at Ballysheedy on the outskirts of Limerick city.
Michael and Mary Ryan are milking 79 cows on a 75ac milking platform and combine dairy farming with their passion for show jumping. Their son, Eoin, recently returned home from professional show jumping in Germany, so there is extra help around this summer.
They are farming a total of 150ac, including 12ac of forestry, which was planted on wetland. All calves born on the farm are kept and reared, with the Aberdeen Angus heifer calves kept to slaughter and bullocks sold as stores in August.
The herd of Holstein Friesian cows has an economic breeding index (EBI) of €139 and delivered 476kg MS/cow to Kerry in 2020 from 1.1t of meal fed per cow.
Michael and Mary are interested in the environment and sustainability. Total nitrogen fertiliser use is 185kg N/ha/year on the milking platform and while this is mostly made up of CAN-based products, they are planning to use protected urea next year.
All slurry is spread by a contractor using low emission slurry spreading (LESS), hedgerows are left to mature and are cut in rotation. No spraying is carried out and cattle are not allowed to enter watercourses. Milk quality is superb, with TBC averaging 6,000 and SCC averaging 57,000 over the last five years. Selective dry cow therapy will be used this year as part of a pilot programme with Kerry to reduce antibiotic usage. The farmyard is spotless, with all yards and sheds fully power-washed.
The milking parlour comprises 10 units with automatic cluster removers. The machine is washed with chlorine-free products, getting a detergent every morning and a descale every evening.
Dairy AI is carried out for one month, using high-EBI Holstein Friesian bulls and then an Angus stock bull is introduced.
Late-calving cows, those calving after the end of April, are sold. The six-week calving rate is 85%. The farm is very well set up, with eight calving pens and plenty of calf housing.
Michael and Mary both spend a lot of time volunteering at equestrian events and Mary is national child protection officer with Showjumping Ireland.
With so much time spent off-farm, having an efficient and sustainable dairy farm is a key priority for the Ryans.