Yogurt venture enjoys instant sales success

DAIRY farmer Ned McCarthy from Kilnamartyra, Co Cork, has been in the yogurt making business only for the past five months, but already he has tasted success with his artisan Labneh Yogurt, winning the Best Emerging Food Product Award at the recent Listowel Food Fair.

Ned McCarthy’s dairy herd is a 60-cow pedigree Friesian herd. I called to see Ned on his farm in Kilnamartyra to find out a little more about his yogurt, and about his reason for getting into the yogurt business in the first place.

For Ned McCarthy it was the bad price being paid for milk back in 2009 that first got him interested in producing yogurt.

Ned explains: “Well, I got a very bad milk cheque, I suppose in April or May of 2009. Milk at the time was making about 20 cent a litre, if my memory is correct. Up to that point the price had been relatively good, but all of a sudden the price collapsed.

“And I remember, in with the milk statement was this leaflet advertising a milk fermenting course that was going to be run in Moorepark. At that time, too, a lot of co-ops were blaming the poor price for milk on competition in the milk market from places like New Zealand.

“And I suppose there is a bit of a rebel in me in that I felt I shouldn’t really have to worry about the price of milk in New Zealand. That surely was the job of the co-op, to get the best deal possible. So I thought if the co-op isn’t able to market Irish milk properly, well then maybe I should do something about getting a market for my milk myself.

“So I decided to take up the offer of the course in Moorepark, and there I learned how to make yogurt.”

Under the brand name McCarthys Natural Dairy, Ned with the help of family members produces Labneh plain cheese and lemon flavoured yogurt. They also produce a range of fruit yogurts.

Labneh yogurt is a rare type of yogurt in this part of the world. It’s a yogurt that originates in the Middle East, and Ned believes he could possibly be the only commercial producer of Labneh yogurt in Ireland at this present time.

Ned sells his yogurt at three Cork city farmers markets — The Olde Bakery farmers market in Wellington Road, at Douglas farmers market which is on a Saturday, and at Blackrock farmers market which is held on Sunday mornings.

Ned finds these farmers markets invaluable in many ways. Not only are they useful for selling the yogurt but also, from talking to shoppers at the markets, he is able to get a good understanding of what flavours are working well with the consumer.

McCarthys Natural Dairy produce can also be found in Vaughan’s Café, Macroom; the Castle Hotel, Macroom; and in Denis Cotter’s Café Paradiso, Cork.

Ned McCarthy, the Kilnamartyra dairy farmer, and recent winner of the Best Emerging Food Product at Listowel Food Fair, may only be in the yogurt business a short time but already he is making a big splash.

Robotic milking

Ned McCarthy describes himself as a man who finds it hard to refuse a good deal, and so when a good offer was made from Lely on the purchase of a robotic milking system, he couldn’t refuse it.

“I was down on a farm in Beaufort, Co Kerry, where there was a demonstration of a robotic milking system, and I thought it was an impressive event,” Ned said.

“Happy enough with what I saw, I was speaking to the sales rep from Lely after the demonstration, and I said I would be interested in switching over to robotic milking in perhaps a few years time.”

But a short time later, when an offer to buy a machine up North came from out of blue, and the price was right, Ned did the deal with Lely.

I asked Ned if there was much modification involved with installing the robotic system into the existing parlour?

He replied: “Installing the robotic milking machine wasn’t too bad. But it was getting the cows used of it that took a bit of work.

“I suppose looking back on it, what I should have done, and what I would say to anyone changing to robotic, is ensure that you have extra help around the place for about the first three days, during the initial start-up. Just to get the cows used to coming in and out over the 24-hour period.

“That was the hardest part of it, and looking back, I didn’t have enough help at the time. As they say, you always learn when you look back.

“After about three days it got better, and after about three weeks most of the cows were trained. It’s now operating very well. I’m very happy with it.”

Is Ned happy with the robotic milking system, or does he sometimes miss the actual milking of cows?

After all, as I suggest to him, it can be a pleasure sometimes, can’t it?

“Well I probably wouldn’t be able to talk to you now at this time of the evening if I was milking cows like before,” Ned replied.

“Of course, on a nice, fine summer’s evening, there can be something to be said about milking cows, cows bursting with milk.

“But on the other side of it, on a cold wet evening like the one we have today, isn’t it great not to have to stand in a hole and get all wet milking cows? I’m glad I changed, I don’t regret it for a moment.”

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