IGA Walk Unveils Remarkable 370-Cow Dairy Powerhouse: A Model of Efficiency!

“Efficiency and Innovation Take Center Stage at Irish Grassland Association Dairy Event in Co. Meath”

The Irish Grassland Association (IGA) dairy event kicked off on Monday (July 17) at Mark Cassidy’s farm near Kells, Co. Meath. The event showcased the highly efficient dairy operation that Mark has developed on his 370-cow farm. The farm employs two full-time staff members, along with a part-time student on weekends and during the summer, as well as two additional labor units during the spring-calving period. The success of the farm can be attributed to the implementation of standard operating procedures (SOPs) for every task, as well as the effective use of technology.

Mark Cassidy returned home to farm full-time in 1996, when there were only 46 cows milking on the farm. However, after being struck down with bovine tuberculosis (TB) and reducing the herd to just 23 cows, the farm started to grow. By 2013, there were 120 cows on the farm, and when quotas were removed, the number of cows increased to 290. As of 2019, there are now 360 cows on the farm. The expansion of the farm in recent years has been driven by the careful selection of cow type and the efficient management of grass.

The spring-calving crossbred herd on the farm produced 509kg of milk solids per cow in 2022. However, this year, milk solids are down by 10% compared to last year. Last year, the cows were fed around 900kg of concentrates, but Mark aims to reduce this to around 740kg this year. The farm spans 153ha, with a milking platform of 115ha, and is stocked at 222kg of organic nitrogen (N) per ha. The herd has an economic breeding index (EBI) of €207 and a six-week calving rate of 83%. There are 394 cubicles on the farm, with 94 under a roof and the remaining 300 being topless. The farm also features a 28-unit milking parlour that can be operated by a single person.

Efficiency is a key driver on this farm, with most of the machinery work being carried out by contractors. Slurry spreading, chemical fertiliser application, and winter feeding are all done by contractors. For tasks completed by staff or Mark himself, SOPs are used to ensure safety and accuracy. The SOPs have become an integral part of the farm’s operations, with a procedure book containing 170 pages. The book is continuously updated, with new jobs and practices being added. The two full-time staff members on the farm, David and Sarah, have well-defined roles and regularly attend staff meetings to discuss priorities for the week ahead.

Mark has incorporated technology into his farm to streamline operations. He believes that technology can further improve the farm and make it a more efficient and pleasant place to work. Collars have been placed on the cows to monitor their breeding cycles, and sexed semen is used for breeding. Clover is also being incorporated into the grazing platform, with around 30% of the area now featuring clover. Mark has found success in autumn sowing for clover and has even converted some silage ground to red clover silage. The red clover is harvested for milking-cow feed, while the second cut is used for dry-cow feed. Mark emphasizes the importance of maintaining a low cover over the winter months to ensure the survival of the clover plants.

The key takeaway from the IGA farm walk is that focusing on the basics and doing them well has been the key to Mark’s success. He prioritizes getting the grass right and maintaining an efficient cow type. Technology plays a crucial role in the farm’s operations, and Mark has also embraced the use of clover and red clover. Additionally, he has made the farm a more manageable place for staff by implementing SOPs for task completion.