Tooreen is a townland about 6km the far side of Skibbereen, or as they say in west Cork, “further west along” as you head for Bantry. In this neck of the woods the number of big herds are few and far between, but William inherited a land block from his father, subsequently leased land adjoining that, and was lucky enough to be able to purchase that land a number of years ago.
The lie of the land is undulating, interwoven with streams and rivers and the locals would describe the land as ‘hungry’ relative to the deep, productive soils more associated with Bandon as you head back for Cork city.
A shale type of rock is close to the surface and most farms have a fair share of digger work done to make ground that can grow excellent grass if managed well. Drinagh Co-op, the largest of the West Cork co-ops has a large hinterland that stretches out to the coast.
The Kingston family has been in Tooreen for over 100 years and William’s dad recalls stories of growing vegetable and potatoes a long time ago with Kingston’s first registered at this location close to the start of the 1900s.
When we arrived to Toureen, the next generation, William and Siobhan’s son Cathal, was just finishing up milking and washing down the yards. The cows had gone back grazing so we made our way to the field where they were eating ryegrass and clover swards by the banks of a tributary of the Ilen river.
The herd is crossbred, with all AI used for five weeks and then a team of Aubrac beef bulls are rotated for the next seven or eight weeks to pick up anything that hasn’t gone in calf in the first five weeks.
In 2020 there were 278 cows milking and by 2021 that number had increased to 309. The production system is grass to milk keeping volume per cow down and getting as much fat and protein as possible. Herd EBI is €174 with in-calf heifers at €193 and calves at €207 EBI. Replacements are contract-reared as the 122ha at Toureen is saved for milking cows and producing winter feed.
Grazed grass forms the mainstay of the diet with fodder beet grown on farm for some winter feed. Plans are afoot to install more cubicles.
All the tools of the trade are employed to manage nutrients such as trailing shoe for spreading slurry, 80% protected urea, and a GPS fertiliser spreading unit to minimise waste. In terms of resource efficiency a heat exchange unit that is linked to solar panels is used to heat water, meters are installed to monitor water usage, plate coolers, and rainwater harvesting are all in play.
It’s basic, it’s simple but it’s working in Toureen. They might grow Olympic rowers on the trees in Skibbeeren, but they grow dairy farmers as well.