The IGA Summer Tour for 2024 will be held on Tuesday, July 9 in Co. Laois. The tour will be heading to two farms where there will be a wide range of themes showcased on the day. 

Bruce Thompson, who is farming outside the village of Ballyfin is an eight generation farmer. The farm which was traditionally a mixed farm is now a commercial dairy farm with a herd of 275 cross-bred cows.

Roy and Trevor Cobbe are farming in partnership and the family has a long history in farming, with this the third and fourth generation farming at Doolagh, outside Portarlington. 

Trevor was the 2021 FBD Young Dairy Farmer of the year and since returning home, has consistently adopted best farming technologies and has been supported by his father Roy together running the Doolagh pedigree registered Holstein Friesian herd of 120 cows.

AIB agri advisor, Mick Conlin said: “AIB is delighted to continue our long association with the Irish Grassland Association.

“This year’s summer tour is a great opportunity to see and hear from two progressive farms.

“Bruce is running a large-scale commercial dairy farm, with a focus on the environment, while the Cobbes are an excellent example of the typical intergenerational partnerships that are in place on many farms around the country.

“Both farms will have very different stories and insights to share but the fundamentals of cows, management and grass are key to the success of both farms.”

Roy and Trevor Cobbe

The Cobbes are managing this 120 spring calving, grass-based, cow herd on a total land block of 81 ha with the milking platform consisting of 43ha and is stocked at 2.7LU/ha. 

Trevor came home farming full-time almost 15 years ago to a herd of 40 dairy cows operating as a mixed farm. 

The herd has grown and developed since then with a critical focus on herd performance through breeding improvements.

There has been a strong focus on EBI with the current EBI of the herd at €235, with a fertility value of €125 (top 2% of herds) and a milk figure of €49.

Fertility performance of the herd was excellent with textbook key performance indicators (KPI’s) of 90% calved in six weeks and a 365-day calving interval with PastureBase records showing 15.2 t/DM/ha grown in 2023.

Increasing the herd from 40 to 120 cows has required investment and development in key areas of grazing infrastructure, additional animal housing and slurry storage and calf rearing facilities.

In 1994 Roy installed a four-unit parlour for the 40 cows he was milking at that time.  Since then, he added an additional two units, and they now have a six-unit double-up system.

The audience will have a unique opportunity to participate in the decision-making process, weighing up the pros and cons of the various milking systems and how they might best suit the running of the farm and the longer-term labour needs of the partnership.

The Cobbe family exemplify what is possible within a family partnership structure to grow and develop the business through clear and open communication.

Bruce Thompson

Bruce Thompson who is a 2020 Nuffield Scholar operates a grass based, spring calving herd of 275 cross-bred cows on a total land area of 250 ha with 100 ha on the milking block.

The 12-unit herring-bone parlour was upgraded to a 40 bail rotary parlour in 2018 around the time when the decision was taken to incorporate Jersey genetics into the mainly British Friesian herd.

The herd EBI currently stands at €233 with milk at €77 and fertility at €10 and he achieved 461kg/MS/cow in 2023 feeding 1.1t of meal per cow.

“The herd is young, but we’ve consistently increased production over the last 3 years so I’m looking forward to maturity,” Thompson said.

2023 fertility performance checked all the relevant KPI’s: 86% calved in six weeks with a 362-day calving interval. In 2023, PastureBase grass records show 14.1 t/DM/ha grown.

Key areas of focus on Thompson’s farm are as follows:

  • Development of the farm business since Thompson took over;
  • Grassland management and the breeding performance goals for the herd;
  • Farm labour management – people and effective communications;
  • Biodiversity – space for nature within a profitable system.

As part of his farming practices, Thompson focuses heavily on what he can do for wildlife and enhancing habitats on the farm; as in 2020, he undertook the Nuffield Scholarship focusing on the plight of the dung beetle.

Other nature actions taken on his farm include planting and managing hedges for biodiversity, planting native trees and installing two ponds.

In 2023, Thompson was conferred as an ambassador as part of the Farming for Nature network, the organisation are to promote and work with farmers to enhance the natural health of the countryside.

The IGA tour

Tickets to the bus tour can be purchased on the Irish Grassland website, Booking is essential, as places are limited.

The IGA is hosting an additional member’s event on the evening before the Dairy Summer Tour at the Midlands Park Hotel in Portlaoise.

This evening is open to all, regardless of industry. The evening will kick-off at 7:30p.m with a three-course Gala dinner. The menu will be using quality assured local Irish Produce.