Donal and Eileen Hayes, from Tubrid Farm near Killorglin in Co Kerry have been announced as the winners of the Kerry Agribusiness milk quality and sustainability awards 2022. The pair are milking 77 high-EBI Holstein Friesian cows on a 37ha farm with all silage and replacement heifers produced on the home farm.

Announcing the winners at an awards ceremony on Tuesday night, James O’Connell, general manager of Kerry Agribusiness, congratulated Donal and Eileen on producing milk of excellent quality and on running a very sustainable farm from an economic, environmental and social point of view;

“These quality and sustainability awards provide us with a great opportunity to recognise milk suppliers, such as the Hayes and each of the other contenders who are going over and above in driving exceptional quality and sustainability standards on their farms. I congratulate all the contestants and thank them for their participation.

“Evolve, our dairy sustainability programme, was launched earlier this year with a focus on enhancing on-farm sustainability from water-quality and biodiversity to carbon and ammonia mitigation and it’s great to see these actions being implemented on the ground,” O’Connell said.

Donal and Eileen will collect the €2,500 prize for winning the competition and will host a farm walk in September. The pair live on the family farm with their four children, Aoife, Laura, Leanne and Daniel, who all help out when needed. Performance is top class, with the herd delivering 511kg MS/cow last year from around 1t of meal fed per cow.

Donal Hayes, Killorglin, Co Kerry.

Donal walks the farm a few times a week to assess grass growth and has recently begun using Pasturebase. His key performance indicators are the cover of grass on fields grazed 10 days ago and the cover of grass on the field directly ahead of the cows. Paddocks are skipped if there is plenty of grass ahead or the brakes applied if covers are getting low.

The Hayes’ farm is a very dry and free draining block, with a steep enough slope towards the beautiful Laune river. The ground nearest the river has free draining sandy soils, while a small disused quarry above the farmyard is a visible sign of the limestone bedrock beneath the main block of land. This old quarry is now a dedicated habitat area.

Having a good dry farm is one thing, but farming it well is another matter. Donal is ticking all of the boxes on this front. Soil fertility is excellent with all bar one paddock index three or four for phosphorus and all bar four paddocks at index three or four for potash. Soil pH is also excellent, with every field on the farm at or above target levels.

The Hayes farm at Killorglin, Co Kerry.

This ensures Donal gets a good response from the nitrogen applied, which is now in the form of protected urea, which he says is an easy choice with the incentive through the Kerry Agribusiness Evolve programme.

Genetics is another area he has focused on, with the herd now averaging an EBI of €189, up from €150 five years ago and placing the herd just outside the top 10% nationally for EBI. The milk sub-index is €70 and the fertility sub-index is €75, meaning the herd is well balanced. The EBI of this year’s calves is €239, with good gains in milk and fertility in the youngstock.

Animal health and disease prevention is a key focus on the farm and a closed herd policy is implemented, with no animals being purchased. With surplus youngstock on hand, Donal is planning to do a hard cull on some under-performing cows this winter and plans to sell some of the heifer calves also.

Cows start calving on 1 February and go to grass in mid-February. Donal spread 200kg N/ha of chemical nitrogen last year, but has reduced that by 20% this year. A new dribble bar was installed onto the back of the slurry tank a few months ago, although he says contractors do most of the slurry work now anyway. No topping is carried out – if a field needs to be cleaned up, it is directed towards silage.

Donal's milking parlour is spotless.

With all the land in one block, Donal and Eileen don’t have to travel to outside blocks for silage or to check youngstock. Donal says they wouldn’t rule out contract rearing and carrying more cows in the future, but for the moment, he’s happy with what they are at.

“Sustainability to me means being able to have a good quality of life, deliver a profitable margin out of the business, being able to do things as efficiently and environmentally friendly as possible. To be able to work with the environment and with the animals through health, nutrient management and soil sampling to keep the whole thing in balance,” Donal says.

Other contestants and runners-up in the competition were:

  • Arthur, Ann and Conor O’Leary, Ballyagran, Co Limerick, who won the €1,500 runner-up prize.
  • Michael Carroll, Rockchapel, Co Cork.
  • Frank Coffey, Farranfore, Co Kerry.
  • William Drumm, Scartaglen, Co Kerry.
  • Tony Francis, Ballyvaughan, Co Clare.
  • Jim Garry, Ballynacally, Co Clare.
  • John Larkin, Ballybunion, Co Kerry.
  • John Molyneaux, Drumcollogher, Co Limerick.