For this week’s Dairy Focus, Agriland made the trip to Glenbrook farm in the Rebel county to meet with Peter Twomey.

Peter farms just three miles from Cork city, near Whites cross. Currently, he milks 70 cows and keeps 20 free-range sows, with their produce sold through a local butcher.

Peter is the third generation of his family to run the farm, starting back in 2001 with just 25 cows.

A spring-calving system is operated on the farm, with numbers slowly increasing to 39 cows, then 70 and eventually reaching 85 cows.

Pigs were introduced onto the farm a few years ago and have since increased from two weaners to 20 breeding sows.

Dairy herd

The dairy herd remains the main enterprise on the farm, although Peter sees the potential to increase pig numbers further.

“Financially, the cows are running the show here – but the pigs are more exciting,” he said.

“What I have at the moment is 70 fairly good cows, if I could get to 70 excellent cows, that’s what I am aiming for.

“I’m producing the same amount of litres as we were with 85 to 90 cows. I haven’t once looked back and thought that reducing cow numbers was a mistake.”

Dairy Focus

Continuing, Peter said: “When we had 85 to 90 cows we were always under pressure and it wasn’t unusual for us to be buffer-feeding in April and May.

“Now, we have plenty of grass ahead of the cows, which has meant we are getting more milk/cow and better percentages.

“The system is just so much easier now, before we were going around in 14 days and cows were not getting enough grass.

“Getting into the pigs has made me think about the cows more and has made the whole dairy system more efficient.”

Herd performance

The herd is predominately made up of Holstein genetics, with an average herd economic breeding index (EBI) of €166, and the replacement heifers over €200.

Peter said: “The herd is producing 540kg of milk solids, which I am very happy with, but there is probably more to get from the cows.

“Breeding has gone very well for us so far. We had 94% of the herd served to AI [artificial insemination] in the first three weeks.

“We are trying to get calving finished up in two months. I got a little distracted last year and it dragged on a little longer than I would have liked.”

Commenting on the his target and goals for the herd, Peter said: “I’m looking to get the herd in a position where it is five-stars across the board in the co-op report. Last year only the cell count and butterfat weren’t.

“If I can get those sorted I would consider increasing cow numbers slightly, but not to a level like before where I was under a huge amount of pressure.

“At 90 cows, a few days of warm weather and no rain meant we were going to be short of grass; that is not the case anymore.”


Commenting on what pushed him to diversify the farm, Peter said: “When milk price is good you’d be a fool not to think about milk.

“But I remember 2009 and we were getting 22c/L, I just wanted the ground to open and swallow up the cows.

“When it is going well there’s nothing better, but the drought in 2018 really took it out of me.

“I had it in my mind that I wanted to get to 90 cows but the farm couldn’t handle that number and 2018 was when it really hit home.

“The farm burnt up and it was a struggle to get fodder for cows; cashflow wise, we are still recovering from that.

“If I hadn’t reduced numbers and changed the system, another major weather event would have seen me getting out of cows altogether.”


The pigs originally started as a hobby, with two weaners, and then Peter bought a sow eleven years ago for his daughter, which he says “was more to distract her than anything”.

“They drove me mad because I wasn’t set, but then when they went I’d miss them,” he said.

The farm has since developed further, with 20 sows and two boars now on the farm. Peter sells the pork through meat boxes on Farmsy, two local butchers and a restaurant in Watergrasshill.

“What we decided to do was make the pigs work a little bit harder, it’s the same cost to keep them as a hobby and a business,” said Peter.

“So in 2020 we got a contract with Ballymaloe to supply them with weaners – that was the foundation to push on a bit.

“We are now also selling the pork meat in a local butchers that’s only a mile away from the farm.”

Currently, there are no plans to massively increase the number of sows on the farm, with around one and a half pigs killed/week from the farm.

However, Peter plans to increase that number to about three/week if the demand for pork remains.

He believes this can be achieved by becoming more efficient with the pig rather than increasing the number of sows.

Peter is also looking at setting up a farm shop on the land to sell produce and increase the amount of people that can access Glenbrook farm’s produce.

Free range

Free-range pigs are quite an unusual system to be operated in Ireland, because of this Peter says a cross-bred pig is best.

“You need a commercial and traditional-cross pig to thrive outdoors; traditional is all fat, commercial is your confirmation.

“We have Tamworth, Hampshire, Gloucestershire Old Spot, we are getting about two litters/year from a sow.

“But you could be left with only three piglets from one sow, they can lie on them and stuff. It’s high risk, but it’s high reward when it goes right.

“We are just finalising the areas for the different stages. When it is fully set up it should be a lot easier.”

Less stress

Commenting on how altering his system has changed his way of life, Peter said he is “loving the lack of stress”.

“There is enough stress already on farms, between calving, breeding and everything else,” he said.

“I had all of that, but then I had no grass and cows under-performing. I’m just loving having grass and everything that is going on with the pigs.

“I cannot get over how much easier everything is, even only having seven rows of cows compared to eight saves you more time than you would think.

“If the cows are supplying the goods, what else could you want.”

Continuing, he said: “Going forward, keeping staff on the farm is going to be very important.

“Joe Casserly is now doing some of the milking and looks after the grass, it has been a major help, freeing me up to work with the pigs.”

Dairy Focus

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