Conal O’Leary – Gortahork Herd

Located in Gortahork in north east Donegal, the O’Leary family farm is situated along the coast looking out onto Tory Island, 42 kilometres north west of Letterkenny, at one of the Ireland’s most extreme northern points. The dearth of dairy farms in the locality, owing to the fragmented farm size and challenging terrain, reflects the grit, skill and determination to succeed of father and son team Conal O’Leary Snr and Conal Jnr, who are now into their third year of milk production.

The dynamic father and son duo invested in converting over and adapting pre-existing farm facilities, and put together a new dairy herd to commence dairy farming as recently as 2019. Milking the herd on a robotic system and utilising zero grazing technology provided the best feasible solution to full-time farm a fragmented holding totalling 50 acres. 58 cows were milked in 2021.

The milk recorded herd performance average in 2020 was 9,072kgs milk, 650kgs milk solids per cow with a herd SCC of 42.

84% of the herd is made up of first and second calvers of whom 94% are scored to Good Plus (GP) or Very Good (VG) standard of Classification on IHFA conformation.

Breeding of the Herd

The new dairy herd was commissioned following the purchase of pedigree registered stock sourced from a small number of herds. The production figures and classification score recorded over multiple generations was a huge help is assessing the suitability of stock prior to purchase, as sale catalogues and breeder catalogues were scrutinised in advance.

Conal Jnr comments “When you are buying in stock and assessing the options in the market there is always an element of guess work involved. The data in terms of milk yields and classification scores recorded over generations of breeding helped us match up with the type of stock that would work well for us in terms of performance and longevity. With generations of consistent data there is a good chance of that breeding continuing.”

“The Holstein cow with her output and efficiency makes it possible for the small-scale farmer to make a good living”

Herd Performance

The Gortahork herd is a mixed lactation herd where cows calve year-round. 50 cows are in-milk each month, twelve months of the year. “The robot provides a fantastic level of data. We know our cows so well. Cows are weighed at every milking and the sensitivity of the technology will pick up any incidences of mastitis days before the human eye can detect it.”