Gearoid Maher farms 80 hectares in Co.Limerick. He has a dairy herd of purebred friesians, milking 80 cows in total. The animals graze from mid-March to the end of October. Hay and silage are cut from the land and fed to the cattle during the winter months. Gearoid feeds locally grown sugar beet to the cows over winter, this has halved the amount of concentrates fed on the farm.
The land is a heavy clay type and requires careful management. Gearoid carries out regular soil tests to determine what specific nutrients are required in each field and at what exact quantity – “I reduced my nitrogen use by approx. 25% on the farm last year as I now have the proper equipment.” He has been gradually increasing the clover content in the grassland and has sown some multispecies grass swards on the farm – with the aim of improving the soil biology and reducing the amount of fertilizer needed in the future.
Gearoid is passionate about increasing biodiversity on the farm. He has planted trees all around the farm, an orchard by the house, as well as hedges and tree lines throughout the fields. There is 20 acres of forestry on the land and the aim is to thin the forest and allow the cows dig up and graze the ground vegetation which will help regenerate the forest floor. Gearoid doesn’t believe in chasing targets on his farm – he enjoys a slower pace of farming ensuring both his animals and nature thrive – “The old rule of thumb was a cow to the acre – and that has been my ethos all along. If I can farm a cow to the acre without pressure then that’s what I'll do.”
Gearoid is a relatively young dairy farmer and is passionate about biodiversity and sustainability. Gearoid farms in partnership with his wife Sarah and their young daughter, Sally Kate. They farm a total of 80 hectares of which 8.5 hectares is in forestry. The land is quite a heavy soil type and needs a lot of care and attention to prevent damage. The grazing season ranges from 220 to 240 days. The land will always be idle for a minimum of four months of the year, Gearoid does not push the farm, he lets the farm work for him.
They milk 80 pedigree Friesian cows and rear all the calves. Animal welfare is paramount on this farm. The 80 cows have access to 100 cubicles and each cubicle is fitted with a mattress. By focusing so much on animal welfare, it has almost eliminated the use of antibiotics. The overall farm stocking rate is 1.5 livestock units/ha. This is a very low stocking rate compared to the national average.
Gearoid has substantially reduced chemical nitrogen application by introducing clover into the sward and precision farming. All slurry produced on farm is spread by low emissions slurry spreading at a maximum rate of 2500gals/ac. Since using this method he has noticed a huge increase in earthworm activity. No herbicides are used on the farm except for spot treatment of noxious weeds.
Last year Gearoid planted a traditional orchard and over 100 native trees around the farm yard. Currently he is in the process of planting 100m of hedgerows and 500m of tree lines. The tree lines and hedgerows will improve soil structure and will improve biodiversity on the farm. The hedgerows on the farm are not cut. The forestry on the farm is due for clear-fell in 5 years and Gearoid is planning not to clear-fell but to take two more tinning’s and leave the forestry grow naturally. Part of the plan is to let the cow’s rough graze in the forestry on a 50-day rotation. This will prevent the forestry from being taken over with growth and will encourage other plant species to thrive. This year he is going to sow 3 hectares of a multispecies grass to eliminate nitrogen use and increase sward diversity. The farm is currently in GLAS.
The farm is home to two beautiful birds of prey, Buzzard, which can be seen early in the morning and around milking time in the evening. Gearoid also feeds the small birds on a regular basis, and has in excess of ten different species regularly feeding. The stream on the farm is a resting ground for a Crane and numerous ducks can be spotted. Gearoid plans to sow a bee pollinator strip this year. Solar panels will be fitted to the cow sheds in the future so the farm energy will be supplied by renewable sources. The farm house was recently fitted with an air to water heating system so no heating oil or fossils fuels are now being used.
Nominator: Carol Quish, Project Manager, Mulkear EIP