Brothers milking it with best practices

A CHEQUE for €5,000 will boost milk earnings for Kevin and John Walsh from Kilnafrehan West, Dungarvan, Co Waterford, as part of the top prize in the NDC Quality Milk Awards.

The Walsh brothers farm 300 acres, 180 owned acres and 120 rented, situated 600 feet above sea level.

They have 107 Friesian spring calver milking cows in 2010, and replacement heifers. Kevin and John prefer Friesians for productivity and “lovely temperament”.

The brothers usually milk together, but take turns for occasional weekends away.

They find their local Teagasc discussion group’s monthly meetings very useful to keep up to date with new management practices.

Glanbia farm advisor Pat Nugent, Teagasc advisor Brian Hilliard, Cappoquin-based DeLavel rep William Scanlon, and veterinary teams from both Deise Veterinary and from Nicholas Connors, all play important advisory roles for the Walsh farm.

However, it is hard work; tried and tested hygiene and management practices; and a commitment to quality, that ultimately makes the farm a progressive and consistent producer of top quality milk.

All the supply goes to Glanbia for manufacture into cheese, butter or powders. No milk is supplied in December and January.

“When the milk you farm will end up in a product on a shop shelf for consumers to buy, you have to produce the very best milk that you can,” says Kevin.

Milk is collected every second day. “We get a text back with the results so we know within 24 hours if there is anything suspicious that we need to investigate. Getting this kind of information back allows us to react quickly before a problem develops. For instance, if we saw TBC levels creeping up, we know we need to re-check the equipment. If we see SCC levels changing, we need to be particularly vigilant with herd health,” says Kevin.

Cows that have clinical signs of mastitis are treated with mastitis tubes. If cell count increases in the bulk tank, they try to find the offender through stripping all cows.

Individual milk samples of that milk. These individual samples can then be tested in the Glanbia lab in Dungarvan (three miles down the road), so that the brothers can get a cell count reading for that individual cow. All cows are routinely treated with dry cow tubes at drying off.

Competition judges noted the farm’s separate lockable storage room for storing antibiotics and other chemicals. All treatments and medicines are properly recorded, and where illness is suspected, three isolation boxes are available until the situation is clarified.

The original milking parlour was built in 1953, but has been kept very up to date. The 14-unit herringbone machine was installed in 2001.

All cows are washed before every milking and stripped to check for clots in the milk. They are dried with paper towels so there is no transfer from cow to cow, teats are sprayed after every milking.

Milking plant is rinsed after every milking with 3½ gallons of water per unit, and an acid wash circulated for 10 to 15 minutes through the plant. Then, it gets a final rinse with 3½ gallons of water per unit. All of the milking equipment is hot washed every second day.

The 1,350-gallon bulk tank is hot acid washed after every milk collection, and is de- scaled once a week.

Such routines resulted in total bacterial and somatic cell counts for 2009 averaging 4.3 and 138,000 respectively.

The Walshs are stringent about all aspects of constant hygiene and disease monitoring.

Their parents started farming at Kilnafrehan 70 years ago, and the farm was struck by two devastating herd depopulations in that time. “When you spend years building up a herd and know all of the animals, it is personally heartbreaking if disease gets in and affects the herd, as well as the huge financial cost to the farm,” says John.

The Walshs try to include as much grass as possible in the herd diet, particularly after calving.

Although they describe the land as a bit “fragmented”, they aim to reseed 10 to 15% annually to maintain grass growth and quality.

February milking cows are normally out day and night by mid-March, with all the herd outdoors by the end of March. Cows normally come in for the winter around November 1.

The 100-head cubicle unit was built 10 to 12 years ago, Cubicles are rubber matted and are dusted twice a day. The unit is well vented.

There is also a beef enterprise on the farm, with 60 to 80 store cattle bought every spring to fatten on grass, for sale at about 2½ years.


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