The Dairy throwback series will revisit five of the most popular and interesting Dairy Focus articles from 2022.
In part one of the Dairy throwback serious we are revisiting the farm of Tom Slattery also known as ‘The Irish Farmer‘ on his farm just outside Dingle in Co. Kerry.
Tom farms a total of 165ac, comprising 70ac on the milking platform, 70ac of an out-farm and 25ac of rented land.
Along with milking 60 cows and having a beef enterprise, Tom works as an artificial insemination (AI) technician for Munster Bovine and has a growing YouTube channel.
There are also five Valtras and one Ford tractor on the farm. Tom is the fourth generation of his family on the farm.
A spring-calving system is operated, with heifers kept for replacements and bull and beef-sired calves kept for the beef operation.
Dairy has always been the main enterprise, some beef cattle are also kept.
The farm is very much a family operation with Tom, his father, his mother, his sister, his fiancé and his grandmother all helping out.
Dairy has always been the main focus on this west Kerry farm. Tom’s grandfather had been milking 30 cows on the farm since 1975, with that number continuing to be milked until 2010.
Since then, the herd has increased to 40 cows in 2016 and now to 60 cows being milked on the farm.
Tom hopes to increase this number further, to between 80 and 90 cows, if that is possible in the future.
The herd is predominantly made up of British Friesian-type cows, with a small number of Holstein and Jersey crosses.
Commenting on what his ideal cows is, Tom stated: “A cow producing 500kg of milk solids, with good feet and legs, that remains in the herd for about eight lactations and is healthy.
“Last year the herd averaged 440kg of milk solids, so we are getting there slowly. We have come a long way since I started farming.”
There is also a beef enterprise on the farm, where all the bull calves and beef-sired calves are kept.
“We have an out-farm where we keep the beef animals. We finish most of the beef-sired calves and then sell the Friesians at 18 months as stores,” Tom continued.
“Although I plan on increasing the dairy cow numbers I cannot see the beef operation going – I just like having the few beef cattle.”
Tom works as an AI technician for Munster Bovine, predominately covering the area west of Dingle.
Talking about how he got his start in AI, he said: “I got into it completely by accident, to be honest.
“A friend of mine talked me into doing a do-it-yourself (DIY) AI course in 2018. I was reluctant at first, but we went and did it anyway.
“I had been doing my own AI for two years and went to do a refresher course with Munster Bovine.
“The guy that covered this area was retiring, so they asked me would I be interested. I thought about it for a week, and here I am.
“It was a challenge really and so far, everyone seems happy with me. I cover a mix of dairy and suckler cows.”
Commenting on how full-time dairy farming and being an AI technician works, Tom said: “It gets very busy during May and June, but for now it’s working well.
“It is a challenge balancing it, but I love doing it so I can’t see myself stopping anytime soon.”
Before Tom started AI, stock bulls played a role on the farm. Commenting on the benefits he has seen since moving to AI, Tom said: “Using AI is a no-brainer really – matching cows to bulls that suit them to improve the herd.
“Doing the AI has been a big help. I know what bulls to pick and what bulls will suit my farm.
“Milk recording the cows has also been a big help, to help you pick cows. We never did milk recording until 2020. I first started doing it mainly for cell counts, but the information that you get from it is amazing.
“You get information on each cow, I was overwhelmed with information. I also thought our herd was lacking compared to other herds, but when you see the information in front of you, you see that they are not.”
Grass and reseeding
Grass is a major focus on this dairy farm, with grass measuring taking place on a weekly basis.
“The farm is heavy, with the grazing season usually lasting from mid-March until November,” said Tom.
“That is all weather dependent; if the weather turns I always have good-quality silage for them [the animals]. Even during the summer if they have to go in, they have to go in.”
Tom said: “Grass is a big focus; I do a grass walk once a week and try manage it as well as I can.
“Reseeding has also been a big focus of mine. I aim to reseed 5ac each year, but I am planning on increasing that to 10ac.
“Reseeding is a no-brainer for me; the better quality grass, the better the regrowth and increased production from the cows.
“I incorporated clover into one field last year and it went well, so I will be putting more of it in this year.
“Multi-species swards are also something I will look into – with the price of fertiliser you’d be mad not to look at them,” Tom said.
All the machinery work on the farm is completed by either Tom or his father, including slurry, silage, fertiliser spreading and hedge cutting.
Ford tractors were used on the farm by Tom’s grandfather, but his father moved to Valtras.
Tom said: “It was a massive change, no reason why we didn’t choose New Holland. The decision was made before my time. Dad had the first Valtra in west Kerry.
“He just preferred the Valtra over other brands. When he arrived back with it everyone was wondering; ‘what is this thing?’
“We find them to be a good, reliable tractor that is simple to use; that’s why we have five of them now.”
Tom and his father do everything from slurry to reseeding on the farm, which he says is mainly due to having an interest in machinery.
“If we didn’t have the interest we wouldn’t do it all. We just love doing our own work, it means that jobs can be done when you want them done,” he said.
“There are loads of contractors around here, but you can’t really get a contractor in to bale one field.
“Having our own equipment gives us that flexibility. It does mean we are very busy in May and June – between the AI, farming and cutting silage – but we love it.”
Tom has also created a YouTube following, who know him as ‘The Irish Farmer‘.
On his channel, Tom gives some insight into what happens on his dairy farm. Commenting on how he started the channel, he said: “Similar to the AI, it kind of started by accident.
“It started during the first lockdown, I took my inspiration from Tom Pemberton. I always wanted to do it, but I never got around to it.
“During the lockdown I just said I’d try it and here we are, with over 4,000 subscribers.
“It is a mix of farmers and non-farmers who watch the channel. Farming is getting a bit of a bad press as of late, so it is good to show people what actually happens on our dairy farm and focus on the positive side of dairy farming.”
Investing in technology
Giving us some insight into how Tom plans to develop this dairy farm further and what he plans to focus on, he said: “Continuing to improve the herd and develop some of the infrastructure.
“We are extending our cubicle shed at the minute, just to improve cow comfort, give them more space in the shed and also have space for extra if we do increase the number further.
“Increase the herd further, but not too far that I am overwhelmed with work and I am getting sick of it,” he added as his second goal.
“I would like to incorporate some more technology into the farm too. I have moved a lot of the records online already and it is just a major time saver.
“I am looking into a heat detection system to improve our heat detection and timing of AI – which should then hopefully improve our overall fertility,” he concluded.