Dairy focus: Tipperary family stands out from the crowd when it comes to milk quality

Farming in Ballylomasna, Co. Tipperary, the Walsh family stands out from the crowd when it comes to milk quality.

Milking 113 cows, the family was awarded the top prize in the NDC (National Dairy Council) and Kerrygold Quality Milk Awards in 2017.

Farm background

John Walsh is the sixth generation of farmer to farm the lands of Ballylomasna. He took the reins of the business and the management of the family’s herd of 50 cows in 1997. He currently runs the operation alongside his wife Maria and children Brendan, Claire and Helena.

Over the years, the Walshs have become increasingly specialised in dairying and plan to phase out the majority of the drystock in the coming years.

The entire area farmed is 102ha. The milking platform includes 53ha of owned land, with the potential for the current land area to expand to 72ha. The overall stocking rate in 2017 was 2.11LU/ha.

Beside John and Maria, one full-time person, Andrew Myles, is employed on the farm. Their son Brendan works off-farm, but is heavily involved in the day-to-day management of the farm.

John believes that good breeding and calving practices are big considerations for quality dairy farming; they actively aim for compact calving and try to avoid late calvers. The family also place a big emphasis on strong hygiene practices and on milk recording.

John Walsh speaking at the Teagasc National Milk Quality Farm Walk on his farm

Milk quality

“In my wildest dreams, I never thought that I would hold a farm walk for work we do everyday and we take for granted,” John told the crowds in attendance at a recent open day on the family’s farm.

However, the Walsh family produces milk to the highest of standards, milk with consistently low SCC (somatic cell count) and TBC (total bacterial count) levels over the years.

Limited access to quota meant that there was little increase in supply between 2011 and 2014, but a 50% increase in the volume sold has been witnessed since then.

Composition of the milk sold has also improved over the seven-year period, with fat and protein content increasing by 0.09% and 0.14% respectively.

Annual SCC varied from 107,000 and 144,000 over the 2011-2014 period, but with quota removal has decreased to 77,000 in 2017.

The Walsh family has consistently been among Dairygold’s highest performers, who achieve the maximum of 55 points for producing milk to the highest standards.

Monthly volume, composition and quality of milk supplied by the Walshs in 2017. Table source: Teagasc

Commenting on why milk quality is so important, John said: “About 10 or 15 years ago, the first talks on upgrading our dairies were taking place.

“There was a meeting in Clonmel and Tony Lonergan, a Teagasc advisor at the time, said: ‘You are producing a food.’

The minute he said those words, it just changed my thinking on what we do at home. We’ve a raw material in the yard of great value, so you have to do it properly.

“We are dairy food producers as well as dairy farmers and milk quality and dairy hygiene go hand in hand. There’s no separating one from the other.”

The importance of hygiene

When it comes to milk quality, John also stressed the importance of maintaining hygiene. This winter/spring proved challenging on the Tipperary-based holding, but John managed to keep SCC down.

“We all had a difficult winter. The dry cows were limed once a day and the milking cows were limed twice a day. The cubicles and mats were scrapped down twice a day.

“In the spring gone by, we used 4.5t of lime on the cubicles. It seemed to help an awful lot and it kept mastitis to a minimum. From January to May this year, the cell count was 63,000.”

Continuing, he said: “I’ve always kept the dairy as clean as I could because I always believed that we have a great product there. The less objectives you have in the dairy, the better. Keep it simple.”

John also outlined the milking procedure:
  • Teats are washed and dried with disposable paper towels if necessary or not washed if clean;
  • All cows are stripped to check for signs of mastitis;
  • Clusters attached;
  • Clusters removed manually when milking is complete;
  • Deosan teat foam post-milk teat spray applied.

Machine maintenance and washing procedure

In addition to the above milking routine and practices, special attention is also placed on machine maintenance and the washing procedure.

Liners are changed twice a year (early February and early July); the milking machine is serviced once a year; and, as the family’s well supplies the dairy, water is tested every three years.

Detergent wash cycle routine
  • Wash outside of clusters and cups put on;
  • Rinse water with 14L of cold water per unit;
  • Remove milk sock and replace with new sock;
  • Daily hot wash of 200L (75°) with 300g of Deosan D90 every morning. Recycle for eight minutes. This solution is used again for washing after evening milking and then run to waste;
  • Rinse with 14L of cold water per unit after the detergent cycle.

The Walsh also descale the parlour once a week.

Descale cycle routine:
  • Wash outside of clusters and cups put on;
  • Rinse with 14L of cold water per unit;
  • Replace milk sock and replace with new sock;
  • Descale with 600ml of Deosan Acidbrite Descaler to 200L of hot water (75°);
  • Rinse with 14L of cold water;
  • Hot detergent wash of 200L (75°) with 300g of Deosan D90. Recycle for eight minutes;
  • Rinse with 14L of cold water.

The dry-off procedure

Drying off is one of the most important procedures carried out on the farm, John explained.

“Besides giving the cows a rest, you’re actually giving them a clean bill of health and getting them prepared for the coming season.

If drying off is done really well – and I call it a surgical procedure – it just gets you off to a really good start.

“Two years ago, we done selective dry cow therapy on 10 heifers. It was Brendan’s idea and I was very nervous because it was something new.

“We did the heifers with teat sealer only and they all had a SCC of <60,000 and had no history of mastitis in any recording. It worked well; so last year we divided the herd into three groups.

“The first group would have got teat sealer only (<80,000 SCC, with no history of mastitis); the next group was from 80,000 to 100,000 and they got a tube with a short withdrawal (Noroclox) and a sealer. The final group (SCC >100,000) got a strong tube (Cepravin).”

Cows are milked twice a day until drying off. Excess udder hair, tails and rumps are clipped the day before cows are dried off. John does this to help improve hygiene around drying off and because it clearly identifies dried off from in-milk cows.

In-calf heifers are not teat sealed pre-calving. The Walshs had no cases of mastitis in such animals around calving. However, before the herd is dried off, the in-calf heifers are fed in the parlour three times a week to familiarise them to the routine.