Maher Family Farm in Cappamore, Co. Limerick, is a shining example of a farm that harmoniously coexists with nature. The farm is home to a thriving herd of cows that graze on a mixture of perennial ryegrass, clover, and mixed-species swards, creating a habitat rich in wildlife and biodiversity. Gearoid Maher, the farmer, goes to great lengths to preserve biodiversity on the farm, with plentiful hedgerows, minimal pesticide use, and 24 acres of forestry on the southern side of the farm. The farm has even attracted a hive of bees, which contribute to pollination in the area.
Gearoid focuses on breeding and raising a herd of 80 pedigree Pure Friesian cows, which are well-suited to the heavy clay soil found in Cappamore. He recognized that he couldn’t change the land, so he focused on selecting the right cow breed for the farm. Pure Friesian cows were chosen for their suitability to the land type and the length of the farm road. Gearoid values his cull cows and bull calves, as they play an important role in the limited stocking of the farm. Additionally, there is a sense of tradition in his decision, as his father and grandfather also bred pedigree Pure Friesian cows. The foundation of Gearoid’s farm was laid with the purchase of 40 pedigree Pure Friesian cows, some from the Dunum herd and others from the Gortfadda herd. Some of these cows have been with the herd for 10 lactations and continue to be its mainstay.
Gearoid is acutely aware of the impact farming practices can have on the ecosystem and takes measures to protect waterways from farm run-off and chemicals. He spreads slurry using low emission slurry spreading (LESS) techniques and has reduced the use of antibiotics by implementing selective dry cow therapy. In 2022, only 10% of cows received antibiotics at drying off. Gearoid’s commitment to environmentally-friendly farming practices is evident in his efforts to minimize the farm’s impact on the surrounding environment.
This year, Gearoid, along with his wife Sarah and daughters Sally-Kate and Lily, hosted the Pure Friesian Club Open Day, which attracted over 400 visitors to Cappamore. Gearoid was proud to showcase how his pedigree herd is managed and expressed gratitude to the club and the Irish Holstein Friesian Association (IHFA) for their support throughout the years. As a new entrant to farming, Gearoid found it valuable to join the Irish Pure Friesian Club to connect with other pedigree farmers and learn from their expertise. Despite his initial nervousness, he was welcomed by club members and officers who share his passion for breeding excellent cows. Gearoid’s herd has grown to 80 cows, producing nearly 6,800kg of milk with 4.27% fat and 3.59% protein. He also has heifers bred from the club’s bulls, producing an average of 5,600kg of milk. With a calving interval close to 365 days, a low empty rate of 4-5%, and a high conception rate to first service, Gearoid’s breeding program has proven successful.
Gearoid annually classifies his cows through IHFA and has seen the benefits of this practice in developing his herd. Currently, there are three EX cows and 23 VG cows on the farm, with eight cows in their eighth lactation or older, all highly classified. This demonstrates the fertility, health, and longevity attributes of pedigree animals. Gearoid believes that his cows and the Pure Friesian breed are the foundation of his success, as they are highly productive, fertile, and low-maintenance.
Gearoid, a fourth-generation dairy farmer, faced significant challenges when he took over the farm at the age of 26 in 2011. The farm’s infrastructure was outdated, the grassland swards were of poor quality, and heavy investment was required to modernize the farm. However, with determination, resilience, and a positive mindset, Gearoid overcame these obstacles and embarked on a new chapter for the herd, re-establishing the Killuragh prefix with IHFA. His efforts have not gone unnoticed, as he was awarded the Sustainability award at the 2022 NDC Milk Quality awards, recognizing his commitment to sustainable farming practices.
Gearoid Maher and his family are true ambassadors for Irish dairy farming, showcasing how a farm can operate in harmony with nature while maintaining high standards of productivity and sustainability. Their dedication to preserving biodiversity, implementing environmentally-friendly practices, and breeding excellent cows is an inspiration to the farming community and a testament to the future of Irish agriculture.