One of the leading dairy farmers in Ireland has passed on his farm management expertise to members of Fermanagh Grassland Club at an open meeting in January.

Patrick Kelly, who farms at Waterwheel Farm, Killygordon, Co. Donegal, spoke on "Milking it from grass and genetics."

Milking 300 Holstein Friesian cows on a grass-based system with spring calving, Patrick is a member of the board of Progressive Genetics and is Vice-Chairman of the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation (ICBF).

A graduate of University College Dublin, Patrick has worked for spells in the Netherlands, France and New Zealand and is a former National Chairman of Macra na Feirme.

Outlining his farm business, Patrick explained how he began dairy farming in 1986 as the fifth generation of the family to farm there with his father, Patrick also involved as well as his mother and brother-in-law. Two full-time workers are also involved in the business as well as farm relief staff and a student when required.

The farm comprises 140 hectares, 40 from the original holding, a further 40 hectares bought, 40 hectares leased on a 10-year agreement and 20 hectares rented.

In the past year, the farm produced 13.5 tonnes DM per hectare.

The 290 spring calving cows produced 6150 litres with 4.5% fat and 3.7% protein. Grass measuring is an essential tool and Patrick said there were days with peak grass growth in May producing 150kgs DM per day.

With a specialist interest in genetics, Patrick breeds his own dairy bulls and breeds for milk solids. His dairy breeding has led to positive results, not only within his herd but also giving him the capability of having six bulls in the National Bull Centre.

The grazing is in one block, along the River Finn and while being relatively dry ground is also prone to flooding. However floods are normally subsided in half a day.

He said lime was the most important fertiliser, keeping soil fertility right.

"Its a waste of time trying to grow grass if soil fertility is not right," he said.

Grass quality, he said, was vital. at peak production in May, cows were producing 29 litres on two kgs of concentrates giving 4.02 % butterfat and 3.61 % protein.

He told his audience how when coming back from New Zealand he has wished for two things to improve his farm, an underpass and a rotary parlour. The underpass is now built and in operation as without it, much of the farm would have been cut off by a busy road.

With some investment in the farm to be made in the next few years, he hopes a rotary parlour might be installed.

He spoke of the evolution of the farm, as in 1996, it was all year round calving producing 5,500 litres and milk solids were disappointing.

He said the type of cows were central to the grazing system with medium size cows weighing 550kgs. The herd is above the national average with milk yields and milk solids having increased. He said 2019 was a record year for milk solids production.

Speaking on herd fertility, he said calving index was 373, slightly higher than he wished because of a carry over of cows. Ninety per cent of cows calved within six weeks. Some cows were on their sixth lactation.

"Herd potential is the keystone of profitability," he said.

He stressed the importance of herd health and biosecurity.

Patrick said his future plans were to increase cow numbers as he believes possible environmental quotas might mean having to scale back numbers.

On future plans, he said planning permission has been obtained for improvements and expansion of the yard which will be done over two five-year phases.

Patrick went on to explain the work of ICBF which has a national cattle breeding database of over 30 million animals with over 100 million records.

During questions, Patrick revealed that there could be up to 240 calves on the farm before any are sold. He has devised a 50-teat feeding system which can feed calves in about 15 minutes.