Eoghan McCarthy’s farm in the west of Ireland has been in his family for three generations and today has 30 hectares of land with a herd of 96 cows.
Their Holstein–British Friesian cross cows produce milk that’s used in the production of McDonald’s cheese slices. Eoghan is an active member of the sustainable farming community and has hosted many events on his farm.
As well as environmental protection, a high standard of animal welfare is key to the farm’s high-quality milk. Eoghan takes a proactive approach to animal welfare, with a focus on hygiene, udder health, diet and mobility. He has carefully managed his breeding program to synchronize calving and grass growth, which allows the herd to produce milk mainly from a diet of grass. The herd is among the top 100 in Ireland ranked on the Economic Breeding Index.
Animal health and welfare
Good calf health is a high priority; shortly after birth (within two hours) all calves are fed a minimum of three liters of colostrum from the dam. This procedure aims to provide the calf with a sufficient quantity of maternal antibodies to ensure adequate immune support for the first three to four weeks of life. Good calf-care routines have resulted in calf mortality rates of 2%.
Through effective management, breeding and infrastructure, dairy cow mobility is maintained to a high standard throughout the herd. Providing well-maintained tracks to pasture, good floor hygiene and housing conditions, high nutrition standards and a strict regime of foot-bathing has helped the farm control this potentially chronic condition.
The herd is achieving a calving interval of 366 days and a herd replacement rate of 18–20%. The herd currently has an Economic Breeding Index (EBI) of €171, which places the herd among the top 100 dairy herds in Ireland ranked on EBI.
The farm is a member of a Herd Health Program, which helps monitor health, fertility and productivity, with the emphasis being on improving individual animal immunity levels and reducing disease incidence.
All dairy replacements are bred on the farm, avoiding the risk of introducing new diseases to the farm brought on by purchasing cows or heifers with sub-clinical health problems.
Milk recording takes place every seven weeks and the data generated provides information on individual cow health, such as Somatic Cell Count (SCC), and milk yield and quality. In 2012, the herd produced an average yield of 6,280 liters of milk over a 262-day lactation period. Average milk solids produced per cow was 491kg, comprising 3.48% protein and 4.12% butterfat.
Eoghan has adopted a milking routine to focus on hygiene and maintaining udder health; this ensures that the milk meets the necessary quality parameters and animal health is protected. In 2012, the average Somatic Cell Count (SCC) was 101,000/ml and the Total Bacteria Counts (TBC) averaged 14,000/ml.
Eoghan has carefully managed his breeding program to synchronize calving and grass growth, with 80% of the herd calving in a six-week period beginning in early February. This allows the dairy herd to produce milk mainly from a diet of grass that is supplemented with 650kg of concentrates per cow.
Eoghan has fitted a plate heat exchanger that removes large amounts of heat from the milk in a very short time, saving costs and energy.
Eoghan uses water from the plate cooler to wash down the parlor after milking, reducing the farm’s water requirements and waste water.
Eoghan undertakes soil analysis on the farm every three years to monitor soil PH, phosphate and potash levels, which enables accurate assessments of fertilizer requirements and reduces the risk of environmental contamination and input losses.
Biodiversity and ecosystems
The farm participates in the Rural Environmental Protection Scheme (REPS), which provides funding to allow the farm to undertake a program of environmental measures.
A section of the farm has been designated a Special Protection Area (SPA).
Learn more about Eoghan McCarthy’s story
Explore the case study, where you’ll find extra details on how the farm has performed against the program’s good practice standards and criteria, what external research reveals about the producer’s actions and how improved sustainability benefits them.
“The main focus of my farming business is to make a living from running the family farm. Obviously, I need to do this as efficiently as possible, while protecting and enhancing the welfare of the cows and respecting the natural environment. The focus is to grow high-quality pastures which the cows have good access to, therefore enabling them to produce as much milk as possible from grass.”
“Producing high-quality milk from grazed grass is one of the key aspects which helps make this family-run dairy farm sustainable. With a long grass-growing season, the low input system is central to the farm’s economic viability, and the astute investments which Eoghan has undertaken in the farm’s infrastructure have provided the foundation to achieve this now and into the future. The focus on cow health and welfare is crucially important; the comprehensive vaccination policy and good disease control measures reduce animal health challenges and support cow performance. Environmental stewardship has also become more of a focus for the farm, with several initiatives being undertaken to help maintain and enhance local biodiversity levels.”