Dairy Focus: Maher Family Farm Sets the Standard for Dairy Excellence in Co. Limerick
Agriland recently visited the Maher family farm in Co. Limerick, home to the Killuragh herd. This year, the farm hosted the Pure Friesian open day, showcasing their success in milk production. The Maher family has achieved remarkable accolades, including being named the Dairygold milk quality award winner in 2021, a National Dairy Council (NDC) milk quality finalist in 2022, and NDC ambassador in 2023.
Gearoid Maher, a fourth-generation dairy farmer, took over the farm in 2011. Prior to that, the farm had been leased out due to his father’s ill health. In 2018, Gearoid and his wife Sarah formed a farm partnership. Gearoid, armed with an honours degree in agricultural science, returned to the family farm with a focus on dairy farming. However, the farm needed significant modernization, as the infrastructure was outdated and the grassland quality was poor.
To transform the farm, heavy investment was required. Gearoid and Sarah assembled a herd of cows and re-established the Killuragh prefix with the Irish Holstein Friesian Association (IHFA). They also installed a new cubicle shed, milking parlour, and grazing infrastructure. The farm, located on heavy clay-type soil, typically has a grazing season ranging from 200-240 days.
Gearoid recognized the importance of selecting the right cow type for the farm. Given the soil type, he decided on pure Friesian cows. This choice also had a traditional element, as Gearoid’s father and grandfather had bred pedigree Friesian cows. The foundation of the farm was laid with the purchase of 40 pedigree pure Friesian cows, primarily from the Dunum and Gortfadda herds.
Currently, the farm is home to 106 milking cows, with a stocking rate of one cow per acre on the grazing platform. Gearoid’s breeding strategy focuses on cow families, considering the performance of dams and grand-dams. Milk and protein production are key priorities. The herd currently produces 6,160kg of milk, with an average fat content of 4.27% and protein content of 3.59%, resulting in 482kg of milk solids. The calving interval is close to 369 days, with an empty rate of 4-5% and a submission rate to first service consistently over 90%. The conception rate to first service stands at 70%.
One area of concern on the farm is the lower economic breeding index (EBI) of the pure Friesian cows. While the introduction of the carbon sub-index has led to an increase in the EBI for many pure Friesian herds, the Killuragh herd still falls below the national average. The national average EBI is €140, while the Killuragh herd has an EBI of €192. Fertility figures are €66 for the national average and €118 for the Killuragh herd, while the carbon figures are €7 nationally and €21 for the Killuragh herd. The milk sub-index is where the pure Friesian breed falls behind, with the national average at €43 and the Killuragh herd at €9. However, breeders argue that the longevity of the cows leads to higher lifetime milk production, challenging the EBI figures.
Sustainability is a top priority on the Maher family farm. They have implemented various measures to promote sustainability, including the use of protected urea for the application of 100kg/ha of chemical nitrogen (N). All slurry is spread using low emission slurry spreading (LESS), and 50% of the farm has a clover content between 20-30%. Additionally, 15% of the silage fields contain red clover, and 10% of the grazing platform features multi-species swards. The farm has successfully reduced concentrate feeding from 1,200kg/cow to 700kg/cow, and the protein percentage from 18% to 15% in spring and 16% to 12% in summer. Selective dry cow therapy is practiced, with only 10% of the herd receiving antibiotics at drying off in 2022. Weeds are no longer sprayed but allowed to grow on the edges of paddocks and topped within paddocks. The farm also prioritizes environmental conservation, with all water courses fenced 1.5m from the edge of the drain. In addition, 20 acres of commercial forestry and 4 acres of natural forestry contribute to the farm’s sustainability efforts.
The Maher family farm in Co. Limerick serves as a shining example of dairy excellence. Through their dedication to modernization, selective breeding, and sustainable practices, they have achieved remarkable success. The Killuragh herd stands as a testament to the Maher family’s commitment to quality and innovation in the dairy industry.
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