“It was our goal in 2008 and we set out to get it and win,” explained Edward Fitzgerald, who yesterday scooped first place for best dairy farm in Ireland at the National Dairy Council and Kerrygold Quality Milk Awards.
Speaking to AgriLand, Fitzgerald said his success was down to years of hard work.
“We are extremely proud and delighted. It is a massive achievement to win. It’s down to hard work through the years. We have 16 years of good records behind us. The win comes down to hard work and teamwork.”
Fitzgerald is the fifth generation of his family farming on the same land. His great-great grandfather, Edmond Fitzgerald, first started renting the land in 1875 and his great grandfather, James continued the lease until 1903 when he bought the farm for £1,550 sterling. James passed on to his son James and then to Edward’s father, Michael, who took over the farm at the age of 14.
One of a family of five, Fitzgerald was the only one who wanted to follow in the family footsteps into farming. In 2008 at the age of 34, Fitzgerald took over running of the family farm although his dad, now aged 66, is still involved.
“I feel very fortunate to have someone so supportive who knows the farm inside out, saying either one can step into the other’s shoes and cover the farm. This creates a much welcome opportunity to take a holiday or travel.”
The Fitzgerald’s milk 64 cows and supplies milk to Kerry Agribusiness. A manufacturing milk supplier, his milk goes most frequently to Charleville or sometimes if needed to Listowel or Newmarket and it is usually used to make cheese.
“Our success is down to teamwork. My father works full-time, my wife Olivia works four days a week and the rest on the farm and our suppliers drive good quality.”
Fitzgerald explained that milk recording is done, SCC is assessed approximately every second day and TBC is assessed twice a month. The herd’s average TBC is 10, SCC is 89, Butterfat 4.10 per cent, protein 3.35 per cent and lactose 4.78 per cent.
The farm has an eight-unit herringbone Dairymaster milking parlour originally installed in the Eighties but extended in the Nineties. The farm uses a plate cooler and night-rate electricity for efficiency. Cooling water is re-used to wash down the parlour.
The cows are normally out on grass from March to November, grazing on approximately 23-day rotation during high grass growth rates. The total farm area is 150 acres (60.7 hectares) with 60 acres total grazing areas (24.3 hectares). The Fitzgerald’s rents 40 acres (16.2 hectares) and owns the rest of the land.
With milk quotes are set to be abolished in 2015, Fitzgerald is not planning to rush out and increase his herd size.
“I have plans to improve production levels from the current average herd yield of approximately 8,228 litres. We have the buildings and infrastructure in place to slowly increase the herd size thereafter but only in the context of retaining the herd at a scale which can continue to be managed comfortably while sustaining the quality of the cows and the quality of the milk,” he explained.
The Holstein herd is at a standard that could improve yield. Fitzgerald recently joined the Limerick and Clare Branch of the Holstein Society, winning the novel section last year and the premier section this year.
Speaking from the Dublin train back to Limerick, with the ‘Sam Maguire’ Cup of dairy farming in his suitcase, Fitzgerald said the plan now was to celebrate with family and friends.
“The cup is in a massive suitcase. It’s like a ticking time-bomb,” he joked, “It will go on the mantelpiece for us to smile at for the rest of our lives.”