Moving from 75 to 400 dairy cows to generate income for two families

Vincent and Brendan O’Gorman, a father and son team have put an ambitious plan in place to expand their dairy farm business in Athy, Co. Kildare.

Recently, the O’Gormans welcomed members of Macra na Feirme onto their Ballindrum Farm to outline their expansion plans, which include increasing cow numbers to 400 by 2020.

The expansion process is already in full swing as the Kildare-based farmers have more than doubled cow numbers over the past two years, moving from a herd of 70 in 2014 to 155 cows this year.

Speaking at the farm walk, Brendan explained that the idea behind the expansion was to generate enough income for two families.

Brendan is a qualified Horticulturist and he returned to form at partnership with his parents on the family’s farm in 2012 after the economic down turn.

Brendan O'Gorman speaking at the farm walk
Brendan O’Gorman speaking at the farm walk

Brendan works with a local vegetable grower and due to the seasonality of the work, he said it allows him to be home on the farm during peak times of the year.

To generate enough income for both himself and his father Vincent, he explained that the decision was made to increase cow numbers.

A five-year farm and financial plan was drawn up to allow for the expansion to happen.

Already, the O’Gormans have invested heavily in their business as they have built a 40 unit Dairymaster rotary parlour and a slurry lagoon for 600 cows, while planning permission has also been granted for cubicle housing for 480 cows.

Brendan also mentioned that cash flow is tight on the farm at the minute because there is more than €100,000 sitting in replacement heifers.

Future replacement heifers on the O'Gorman's farm
Future replacement heifers on the O’Gorman’s farm

But despite the large investment required to bring the additional cows to the parlour, both Brendan and Vincent seemed determined to make it happen.

Vincent explained that he had always wanted to milk more cows and it seemed to be the perfect opportunity to do so when quotas disappeared.

Video: See the 40-unit Dairymaster rotary parlour in operation

A brief background to Ballindrum farm

Vincent told the young farmers in attendance that the farm was purchased in 1990 and at the time there were no real dairy facilities as it was originally a summer beef farm.

Over the first 10 years, he said that a great deal of capital expenditure was required to get the dairy business up and running.

This included investments in reseeding, roadways, a parlour and a water system.

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He joked that they must have nearly bought the dearest 50,000 gallon quota in Ireland, as it was rented at a cost of £10,000 punts for the first 10 years before being bought outright at €86,000.

Since taking over the farm in the 1990s, Vincent added that an off-farm business had been developed and this has helped to allow the farm to expand.

Vincent and his wife Mary established the award winning hospitality business – Ballindrum Farm B&B.

The Kildare-based farmer added that the income generated from the B&B kept the home running, while any income generated from the dairy business was reinvested back into the farm.

Building cow numbers from within

The O’Gormans traditionally operated a split calving system, but from next spring on all of the cows in the herd will switch to spring milk.

Brendan spoke about the importance of breeding heifers from within the herd to keep the risk of purchasing in disease to a minimum.

In a bid to increase the number of heifer calves born annually, the farm started using sexed semen and although the conception rates dropped by 4-5%, Brendan explained that it increased the number of heifers on the ground.

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Presently, there are 85 replacement heifers on the farm and 200 cows are expected to be milked in the parlour next spring.

Herd EBI
  • Herd average EBI: €138
  • 2015 born heifers: €200
  • 2016 born heifers: €223

Prior to expansion, the O’Gorman herd consisted mainly of Holstein Friesian cows, but Brendan added that more Jersey genetics will be used in the future.

He said that 40 of the cows due to calve next spring are in calf to Jersey and in the coming years he plans on running a 75% Holstein Friesian and 25% cross-bred herd.

His father Vincent added that Jersey genetics have been used to try and improve some of the key production traits in the herd.

“I would like the fertility of the herd to be better,” he said, but he seemed quite happy with the current 28L/day production from the Holstein herd.

Grassland management and accessing land

For the expansion to work, the father and son team will need to bring additional land to the system.

And, Vincent added that the venture has been helped by the retirement of a neighbouring tillage farmer, who is freeing up land as the dairy farm needs it.

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Vincent said that the farm will continue to be grass-based and last year the farm grew 16t of grass Dry Matter per hectare, with each paddock grazed 12 times.

To keep grass utilisation high, Vincent said pre-mowing is used on some of the heavier grazing covers, which results in a grass utilisation of about 95% from these paddocks.

Along with making the best use of grazed grass, they also focus on producing top quality silage and the average silage DMD on the farm in 2015 was 78%.

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Managing investments in a difficult milk price year 

To conclude the day, Vincent said that it is important to have the full support of your bank when you are financing any investment.

He advised the young farmers in attendance, who are considering seeking finance to arrange for the bank to meet at your farm, as this will allow them to see exactly where the investments will be made.

In terms of managing with the lower milk price that has been seen over the past 12 months, he said that 45% of the milk produced on the farm is locked into fixed price contracts of 29-30c/L.

He also added that the average milk price received on the farm so far this year has been 25.5c/L.

Brendan explained the financing of the expansion, which he said has been funded by a 15 year loan, with the first two year’s payments being interest only.

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