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News > Meeting the Challenges of Managing Large Dairy Herds


Meeting the Challenges of Managing Large Dairy Herds

May 15, 2020

Kenneth Johnston, CAFRE Farm Innovation Visit Scheme Manager

At the moment the Farm Innovation Visits Scheme has been suspended due to travel and social distancing restrictions. This Scheme offers farmers and growers the opportunity to travel to other parts of the UK and Europe to learn about new innovative technologies which they could bring back to their own business. At the beginning of March, before restrictions were in place, a group of 16 dairy farmers travelled to Great Britain to learn about large dairy herd management. The tour was led by Michael Verner and Kenneth Johnston from DAERA’s College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE).

Average herd size has steadily increased in Northern Ireland with a significant number of units now milking in excess of 250 cows. This increase has resulted in owners and managers being faced with a range of new challenges. The study trip looked at how both cows and staff are managed to achieve key performance targets, including the recruitment, training and management of staff and the development and implementation of clear work protocols.

The tour included visits to two large scale dairy farms in Yorkshire – A& E Banks and Son and Metcalfe Farms. Both these businesses are milking in excess of 650 cows with annual production in excess of 11,000 litres milk sold per cow per year. Each business employs large numbers of staff, many of whom are part time and have little previous farming experience. Both have very detailed protocols for each activity on the farm.


Photo Caption: Dairy cows being milked in a 60 point rotary parlour during a Farm Innovation Visit to Yorkshire in early March.

Samuel Hill from Ahoghill, Co Antrim attended the trip and he reflected on the success of the trip,
“In early March 2020 I took the opportunity to attend a CAFRE Farm Innovation Visit to Yorkshire to look at innovations in the management of large dairy herds. This was a 2 day trip giving us the opportunity to visit 2 super farms.
The trip was fantastic and I learned so much. We were able to discuss in detail the issues associated with the management of large herds including the day to day management of cows, calves and young stock. Most impressive was the scale of the businesses and the motivation of the staff that we met. We also saw first-hand the use of detailed protocols. Overall it was a memorable trip and I would encourage other farmers to apply for Farm Innovation Visits that are appropriate to their business in the future.”

The Farm Innovation Visit Scheme, which is part of the NI Rural Development Programme and part funded by the EU, covers the costs associated with setting up the visit, accommodation, travel outside of Northern Ireland and meals when in Great Britain or Europe. Participants are expected to meet any additional costs, including farm relief and travel insurance.

While Farm Innovation Visits are currently on hold due to COVID-19 it is hoped that they will be up and running again in the coming months. Any farmers who are interested in participating in future study tours can find out more details at: