For this week’s Dairy Focus, Agriland made the trip to Co. Limerick to the Maher family farm.

Gearoid and Sarah Maher’s Co. Limerick-based Killuragh herd was the host of this year’s Pure Friesian open day.

The return to milk production has been a success for the Maher family, with the farm being the Dairygold milk quality award winner in 2021, a National Dairy Council (NDC) milk quality finalist in 2022 and NDC ambassador in 2023.


A fourth-generation dairy farmer, Gearoid took over the farm in 2011. In the years prior the farm had been leased out due to his father being in ill health.

In 2018 Gearoid and Sarah entered a farm partnership.

Graduating with an honours degree in agricultural science Gearoid returned home to the family farm to focus on dairy farming. 

The task ahead was challenging as the infrastructure on farm was outdated and not fit for purpose and the quality of the grassland swards was poor.

Some heavy investment was required to modernise the farm, along with a herd of cows being assembled and the Killuragh prefix re-established with the Irish Holstein Friesian Association (IHFA).

A new cubicle shed and milking parlour were installed on farm, along with grazing infrastructure.

Pure Friesian

The farm is located on a heavy clay-type soil, which means an average grazing season would range from 200-240 days.

Dealing with this type of farm, Gearoid knew that the cow type he selected was going to be vital.

Gearoid Maher

He settled on a pure Friesian cow, as he believed it would suit the farm.

There was also an element of tradition in the decision as Gearoid’s father and his father before him all bred pedigree Friesian cows.

40 pedigree pure Friesian cows were purchased, the majority from the Dunum herd and some from the Gortfadda herd.

This was the foundation of the farm and these cows were the establishment of the pedigree herd.

106 cows are now being milked on the farm, with the heavy soil type meaning the farm is stocked at one cow to the acre on the grazing platform.


For breeding, a focus has been placed cow families, with Gearoid looking at the performance of dams and gran-dams.

Breeding for milk and protein was high on the list.

The herd of 106 cows is producing 6,160kg of milk, with average fat of 4.27% and protein of 3.59% – which equates to 482kg of milk solids.

The calving interval is close to 369 days and the empty rate is generally between 4-5% with a submission rate to first service consistently over 90%, and a 70% conception rate to first service.

Currently, there are three EX cows 23 VG cows.

Within the milking herd there are eight cows on their eighth lactation and older in the herd, demonstrating fertility, health and longevity attributes.


An issue highlighted on the farm was the lower economic breeding index (EBI), although the EBI of many pure Friesian herd has increased since the introduction of the carbon sub-index.

Comparing the Killuragh herd to the national average EBI figure, national average is €140 while the Killuragh herd has an EBI of €192.

Fertility for national average is €66 and €118 for the Killuragh herd, while the carbon figure nationally is €7 and €21 for the Killuragh herd.

The pure Friesian falls down in the milk sub-index with the national average being €43, while the Killuragh herd has a figure of €9.

But based on the production figure above this is hard to achieve, and has many breeders questioning the figures.

Many breeders noting that the longevity of the cow means that over their lifetime, more milk is produced.


Sustainability has a massive role to play on the Maher family farm with a wide variety of measures being adopted.

A total of 100kg/ha of chemical nitrogen (N) is used, with all of this spread the form of protected urea.

multi-species sward on the farm

All the slurry is spread using low emission slurry spreading (LESS), while 50% of the farm has a clover content of between 20-30%; 15% of the silage fields are red clover.

A further 10% of the grazing platform has multi-species swards.

Concentrate feeding has been reduced from 1,200kg/cow to 700kg/cow and the protein percentage from 18% to 15% in spring and 16% to 12% in summer.

Selective dry cow therapy is used on the herd, with only 10% of the herd receiving antibiotics at drying off in 2022.

Weeds are no long sprayed on the farm with. They are allowed to grow on the edges of paddocks and topped in paddocks.

All water courses are fenced 1.5m from the edge of the drain; there is also 20ac of commercial forestry and 4ac of natural forestry.

Dairy Focus

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