County Limerick has not one, but two finalists in a competition called the Liam MacCarthy of farming.
Or, to be more accurate, Kilmallock has two families short-listed as national finalists for the 2013 National Dairy Council and Kerrygold Quality Milk Awards.
Edward and Olivia Fitzgerald are from Tobernea and Denis and Rioghna O’Gorman are from Ballinagoule in the South Limerick parish. They both supply Kerry Agribusiness.
The competition sets out to highlight and reward excellence in Irish dairy farming and Limerick has a proud tradition. Danny and Patrick Cremin, Ballintubber, Newcastle West were runners up last year. While in 2011 Michael and Thomas Enright, Ballynorth, Askeaton won the competition.
A spokesperson from Kerry said Limerick has two outstanding candidates again this year in the Fitzgeralds and O’Gormans.
Edward 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.
James passed it 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, Edward was the only one who wanted to follow in the family footsteps into farming. His two brothers and two sisters took different career paths both at home in Ireland and overseas.
“Although he knew he always wanted to work on the family farm, Edward was encouraged to continue his education and initially completed a diploma in Mechanical Engineering before finishing his Green Cert.
“He then worked at an engineering works locally whilst part time farming with his father Michael,” said a spokesperson for the event which will be held in Dublin on Monday, October 21.
In 2008 at the age of 34, Edward took over running of the family farm although his dad, aged 66, is still involved.
Edward feels 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 gives Edward the opportunity to enjoy a week skiing in Winter, which he is very enthusiastic about, and go to Munster and Limerick hurling matches.
Edward milks 64 cows and supplies it 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.
Edward is following his father in more ways than one as Michael was the winner of the Golden Vale Quality Milk Awards in the 1990s and was awarded second place in the national Quality Milk Awards.
Milk recording is done, somatic cell count (SCC) is assessed approximately every second day and total bacterial count (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 1980s but extended in the 1990s.
The cows would normally be 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. Edward rents 40 acres and owns the rest of the land.
With milk quotas set to be abolished in 2015, Edward is not planning to rush out and increase his herd size. He initially plans to improve production levels from the current average herd yield of approximately 8,228 litres.
“He has 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,” said a competition spokesperson.
Edward and Olivia built a new house on the farm. They initially found it difficult to get planning permission with a suggestion that they should live in the town, which is 4.5 miles away. However that type of distance would have been incompatible with a farming lifestyle.
Not too far away is Denis and Rioghna O’Gorman and their three boys - Rory, Paidi and Joe. They have a herd of 78 cows on a 160 acre farm with 85 acres used for dairy cows. Denis has a 12 unit milking parlour.
Calving is from February 1 to mid May each year and the cows are normally out on grass from February until mid-October. Denis uses a 12 hour paddock grazing system.
TBC is tested twice a month and SCC is tested on most collections, every two days. The herd has an annual average TBC of 12 and SCC of 62. Butterfat average is 3.77 per cent and protein is 3.43 per cent.
The coincidence of both finalists living so nearby certainly made life easy for the inspection visit of members of the expert judging panel - Professor Paddy Wall, associate professor of public health at UCD; Dr Jack Kennedy, dairy editor of the Irish Farmers Journal and Dr David Gleeson, milk quality research, Teagasc.
They scrutinised technical information and farm management practices supporting each farm’s consistently excellent quality milk standards.
They also reviewed aspects of contemporary dairy farming ranging from sustainability and animal welfare to care of the environment