Laura Hannon

Local dairy farmer to speak at Irish Grassland Conference

IGA Dairy Conference 2024 preview by Philip Cosgrave, IGA council member

The annual IGA Dairy Conference gets underway today, (January 10), in the Charleville Park Hotel, and eight speakers will present and discuss topics that will have an influence on the dairy farm business in 2024.

Among the guest speakers is Laura Hannon who is dairy farming in partnership with her parents in Meath.

The title for this year’s conference is ‘Focusing on our strengths’, and the three sessions will focus on managing low milk prices, cow lameness, milk quality, calf rearing and include a panel discussion with three young dairy farmers outlining their views on sustainability, managing labour and career progression in dairying.

The organising committee are always keen to have dairy farmers tell their stories, and for this conference, five are speaking on areas in which they excel.

Session 1: Managing Challenging Milk Prices

Milk price was a standout issue on dairy farms throughout 2023, and in this first session, chaired by IGA council member Patrick Gowing, two speakers will tackle the topic. Tadhg Buckley from the IFA will delve into the international milk markets, explaining what is underpinning current milk prices and offer expert advice on how to scrutinise and analyse variable and fixed costs on farms.

GD Young has a unique background, having been a dairy farmer in Scotland and now in Ireland. He will compare and contrast the low-cost grass based system he operates now with the high output/high input type system he operated in Scotland. GD will also outline what he’s done differently on his farm over the last 12 months to manage tighter margins.

Tadhg Buckley is from a farming background and is the current director of policy and chief economist with the IFA. Prior to joining the association, Tadhg was head of agriculture with AIB Bank. He holds a degree in Agricultural Science from UCD and an MBA from University of Limerick. Tadhg is also a Nuffield Scholar (his study examined the role of dairy futures markets and other price risk management mechanisms in the EU dairy industry).

He is also a member of the Agricultural Science Association and a qualified financial advisor. Tadhg is actively involved in dairy farming on his home farm in north Cork.

GD Young is farming with his wife Caroline and their three children in Westmeath, and milking 400 cows. GD grew up in Scotland and began his farming career in the mid-90s when he returned home to work on the family farm, milking 120 cows. In the late 1990s the opportunity came to buy out his uncle, who was milking 100 cows, and that allowed them to amalgamate the two herds to improve labour efficiency.

Output steadily increased to 9,500 litres per cow on a high input system, but poor returns and difficulty in finding labour led them to quit dairying and convert to sheep and sucklers in 2011. They set up a brand, ‘Argyll Angus’, to help market their own beef by targeting the local tourist market. In 2015 they purchased their current farm after selling their farms in Scotland to start up a new dairy enterprise in Ireland.

Session 2: Getting it right this spring: Health and Milk Quality

Herd health and milk quality are critical areas to get right in the spring on any dairy farm, and Waterford vet, Ger Cusack will discuss the impact cow lameness can have on the herd and how to reduce lameness on farms. The second speaker is milk quality expert Don Crowley, and he will focus on getting milk quality right from the start of lactation, controlling milk cell counts and reducing mastitis levels in the herd. The final speaker is Meath dairy farmer Laura Hannon, who will outline her approach to herd health and particularly calf health and calf rearing.

The chair for this session is Niamh Bambrick (ASA president and Mullinahone Co-op).

Ger Cusack graduated from UCD Veterinary College in 1982. He is a practising vet at Comeragh Veterinary, a mixed, mainly dairy cattle practice, in Kilmacthomas, County Waterford. He also has a Certificate in Dairy Herd Health from 2015. He is a member of Animal Health Ireland’s newly formed ‘Hoof Health Check Technical Working Group’. He is a member of the Veterinary Council of Ireland and is founder chairman of XLVets Ireland, a company providing networking support to independent veterinary practices throughout Ireland.

He worked with Muireann Conneely of Teagasc to produce the ‘Reducing Lameness in Irish Dairy Herds’ booklet in 2022. Ger is also a director of Greenway Agritraining, who deliver practical, hands-on training to farmers and others in the farming sector, focusing on hoof care and the prevention of lameness in dairy herds.

Following Ger’s presentation, Don Crowley, milk quality specialist advisor at Teagasc, will speak. Don completed his degree in Agricultural Science in 1994 from UCD. He worked for more than 10 years with Riverview Veterinary group in Bandon County Cork, where he held roles as an agri-Advisor and practice manager, before joining Teagasc.

He began his Teagasc current role in 2006, based in Clonakilty, as part of the Teagasc/Dairygold joint programme. His role has expanded and he now provides advisory support to milk suppliers and advisors in the joint programmes that Teagasc run with Dairygold, Kerry and Carbery Co-ops. A native of Cork, Don and his wife Michelle run a dairy farm in Ballineen and supply milk to Lisavaird Co-op.

Laura Hannon from Navan.

The last speaker is this session is Laura Hannon, who is dairy farming in partnership with her parents in Meath. Laura qualified as a general nurse in 2017 and worked at Beaumont hospital until May 2019, when she returned home to farm. She completed the Green Cert in 2019 by distance learning and then enrolled on a part-time degree in agriculture, which she graduated from in 2023.

The family partnership are currently milking 320 cows. In 2020, they ceased contract rearing and now rear approximately 80 calves and 80 heifers on a leased out-farm. Animal health is a priority area for Laura, and she and her father work closely with their vets to create a herd health plan that is relevant and practical for their farm. Working with their vets has helped them to significantly decrease use of antibiotic and anthelmintic on the farm. Laura recently won the ‘Animal Health Dairy Farmer of the Year’ award.

Session 3: Managing a system to suit your business

The afternoon session will take the shape of a panel discussion with IGA council member Michael Egan as chair. On the panel three young dairy farmers, David Dolan, Owen Ashton and Mark Collins. David will outline his journey and future plans on improving environmental sustainability on his farm and how he has been steadily reducing N usage through incorporating white clover in his swards.

Owen Ashton is not from a dairy farming background and had an unconventional path into dairy farming through an equity partnership. Mark Collins will explain why he has implemented a 10 in 7 milking frequency and how creating a good working environment for staff is good for business.

David Dolan farms alongside his parents Louis and Bernie near Claremorris, County Mayo. The 50ha farm carries 110 crossbred cows. The farm has undergone significant change over the last six years, from a split calving high output system with multiple out blocks, to a spring calving medium output system on a single block.

In 2022, the calving interval was 370 days, and the six-week calving rate was 86%, producing 520kg of milk solids per cow, supplying Aurivo Co-op. David is focusing on reducing the environmental impact of the farm and making more room for biodiversity. Twenty per cent of the farm is now in high clover swards and there are plans to introduce multi-species swards in 2024. David has just completed his Nuffield Scholarship, titled ‘Net Zero Emissions Farming: Challenges and Opportunities for farmers and co-ops’.

Owen Ashton is farming in a cow leasing and contract milking deal with Kevin and Margaret Twomey in Castlelyons, County Cork. He graduated with a BSc Agriculture from Aberystwyth University in 2013, after which he gained experience working on large scale dairy farms in New Zealand, Wales, and Ireland. Not from a dairy farming background, he has always had a passion for dairy farming, and this partnership with the Twomeys has allowed him to realise his goal.

Owen purchased his first stock in 2015 and has since grown his herd while working alongside Kevin to 160 cows plus followers. They are currently milking 185 high EBI cross bred cow on a 57ha milking platform with winter feed coming from an outside block. In 2022, they sold 467kg MS/cow, at 4.62% fat and 3.79% protein. Owen has a strong focus on producing high quality milk from a grass-based production system, with a good work life balance.

Mark Collins is farming in Tipperary in partnership with his parents, Padraig and Ena. He graduated from UCD in 2020 with a degree in Agricultural Science in Dairy Business. The partnership is milking 450 crossbred cows on 170ha with a 10ha out block and all young stock are contracted reared. Mark has a strong focus on a simple efficient system that produces quality milk solids from resilient pasture in a sustainable manner, and this year he implemented a 10 in 7 milking rota.

He aims to grow more multispecies and grass-clover swards to reduce chemical fertiliser use and improve soil health and breed high EBI crossbred cows that are efficient at converting grass to milk solids. Alongside Mark and his parents, there are two other full-time staff members and occasional part-time help. There is a strong emphasis on keeping a positive working environment, to achieve the goals of the farm and the personal development of staff.

IGA dairy social night – dinner and conversation with Dr Paddy Wall

The IGA Dairy social night is on the eve of the dairy conference at the four-star Charleville Park Hotel, in Cork on Tuesday, January 9. The positive feedback and the increasing number of requests from members to facilitate a social element to the dairy conference are testimony to the popularity and success of previous social nights.

Dr Paddy Wall.

The evening starts at 7.30pm with a three-course dinner, after which guest speaker Dr Paddy Wall will be interviewed by Laurence Sexton, dairy farmer, and former IGA council member.

Dr Wall is professor of public health at UCD and is a member of UCD’s Institute for Food and Health. His research areas include food safety, nutrition and managing lifestyle related disease through behavioural change.

Paddy’s academic career began in the UCD vet school, where he qualified as a vet and followed that with a degree in Human Medicine at the Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland.

Paddy was head of the Foodborne Diseases Division of the UK CDC, and became the first chief executive of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland in 1998. He is a former chairperson of the European Food Safety Authority. He advised the Chinese government on food safety issues for the 2008 Beijing Olympics and sits on a committee in the Chinese equivalent of the European Food Safety Authority.

Paddy still holds several national and international advisory positions, is a director of AgriAware and is chairperson of Independent Milk Laboratories.

Tickets for the night €45 per person or a table of 10 people for €390; they must be purchased directly from the Charleville Park Hotel, on 063 33700.

Places are limited.