In this week’s Dairy Focus, Agriland made the trip to down to Co. Cork to meet Carmel O’Hea on her farm near the village of Timoleague, to see the newly-built milking parlour that has been installed on the farm.
Carmel and her husband Anthony live on the farm with their three young children. Carmel had been farming alongside her father PJ, until his death in 2012, with much of the farm’s current building having been constructed by PJ.
Carmel farms a total of 120ac, and is currently milking 80 cows in a split calving system.
Speaking to Carmel about her backgroun,d and some of the history of the farm, she stated:
”I finished my degree in agriculture from UCD [University College Dublin] in 2003 and returned home to farm alongside my father. He semi-retired but was still involved with the farm. The farm was officially handed over to me in 2009.
”We have always been dairy farming and would have always had between 80 to 90 cows; expansion is not really an option here – we are restricted by land.
“The herd size is also a comfortable number for me to manage on my own, with the help of a worker.
”When my father ran the farm, we would have always had farm apprentices, and up until recently we had a full-time worker on the farm.”
Speaking to Carmel about the herd performance, system of producing and breeding policy, she said: ”We are liquid milk producers supplying Clona Dairies in Clonakility.
”The herd is made up of predominately Holstein Friesian type cows producing on average 7,000L a year.
“Up until a few years ago we were paid on volume, so solids would not have been important.
”Clona has now moved to a solids based payment system, but we always bred for protein along with volume, even though we were not paid for it; this meant our solids would have been quite good,” she added.
”We use all dairy AI (artificial insemination) and sell excess heifers not being kept for breeding as calves. I calf about 60% in autumn and 40% in spring, with 55 to 60 cows milking through the winter.
”I would have all the cows milking from March to July, then start drying off autumn calvers from the end of July, to start calving in September.
”I have two calving blocks – the autumn one from September until November with a break over Christmas, then I start calving the spring cows from January until mid-March,” she said.
Speaking to Carmel about developments that have happened on the farm over the years, she said: ”The yard has not changed much in recent years, with most of the building being constructed in 1970s or 1980s by my father PJ.
“The sheds he built are all still in perfect condition; we would have changed mats, scrapers and cubicles, but the shed itself is still perfect.
”My father PJ also installed the old Alfa Laval parlour we had; it milked cows 365 days a year for over 50 years, and had not given me any issues.”
Changing the milking parlour
When asked why she decided it was time to update the milking parlour, Carmel said: ”The old parlour – most people probably would have changed two times; but the machine itself still worked perfectly.
”It was a double-up, eight-unit, with automatic cluster removers (ACR’s) and jars, so 16 cows could be milked at one time; it was a great parlour when it was installed 50 years ago, but in recent years, was now starting to develop some issues.
“The issue I was having was mainly with the feeders, in the last two years partially; getting parts was becoming an issue and you could not be sure what cows were getting.
”The old parlour was also hard to start if you did not know how to use it. If you took a night off and got a relief milker, they would have to be shown how to operate it,” she added.
”You could not let a stranger into the old parlour without showing them how to operate it.”
New milking parlour
Speaking to Carmel about the milking parlour she choose, and why she choose this parlour, Carmel said: ”I had been looking at parlours for over 10 years and even looked at robots. In June of last year I made the decision; I was going to change it.
”I got in contact with Tom Harte Farm Services in Whitecross, Co. Cork. I did not see the point in changing from Alfa Laval, now DeLaval – a brand that had done so well for us.
“Tom Harte Farm Services were great; they designed the new parlour and gave me options to choose from, including specifications and size.
”The cost of a greenfield site is huge so converting a shed made sense… beside the old milking parlour was the old calf shed.
”Using this shed meant we were able to keep the same collecting yard and our calving pens are right beside the parlour for milking freshly-calved cows,” Carmel added.
”The work started in October and was completed in early-March. I wanted to keep the parlour fairly simple.
“I choose to build a 16-unit herringbone parlour. I looked at 12 and 14-units but the price difference was not that much so I went with the 16-unit.
”The parlour itself has ACRs, batch feeders, auto-wash and vacuum operated gates, we also installed DeLaval’s new cluster design.
”The dairy was also moved to a new location, with the old bulk tank and plate cooler being kept,” she said.
Adapting to new milking parlour
Talking to Carmel about how the change to the new parlour has gone, Carmel commented: ”It has been great so far. The biggest change has been once you go into the pit you can stay there; the old parlour you had to open the back gates and then leave the pit to close it.
”The cows have taken to the change quite well, the collecting yard has stayed the same so it not a completely new area to them.
“The first milking was a bit slow, but after the first day they were coming in on their own; 45 minutes has the milking finished.
”I have a husband and three young children, so it means that I am not tied to the farm as much, and I can now get relief milkers to come into the farm.
”I do not have to worry about any issues with clusters not working or feeders, which in recent years had caused delays to milking.
“Not being able to see what cows are producing was strange. The old parlour had jars so you could see a cow that was down in milk.
”Production has increased since we moved into the new parlour, I would say mainly because cow are being fed the correct amount of concentrates.”
Looking to the the future of the farm, Carmel stated: ”We are in the process of covering the old milking parlour into a drafting and handling area for the cows.
“I am currently in the process of removing the old parlour, and work will start on that soon.
”I have a new automatic drafting system purchased which will be drafting cows using their ear tags,” she added.
”Since the new milking parlour took the place of the old calf shed, I have plans to construct a new calf shed.
”I was tight for space this year with the new parlour under construction. It probably will not happen this year but hopefully early in 2022,” she concluded.