The secret to the Banville family’s on-farm success can be summed up in one word: Diligence. While the word itself does little to describe just how thorough they are when it comes to hygiene and herd health, the many trophies they’ve collected over the years are proof that what they’re doing works.

Patrick and Carmel Banville have been dairy farming since they took over Patrick’s parents’ farm in 1990. The Banvilles have been on the farm since 1919 when Patrick’s grandfather married into a dairying family, making Patrick and Carmel the third generation. The couple has three children, John (21), Brian (18), and Orla (16). Their hope is that they will one day take over the farm.

The Banvilles milk 140 Holstein-Friesian cows and raise 40 replacement heifers in County Wexford in the southeast of Ireland. Theirs is a pedigreed herd. They deliver approximately 836,737 litres of milk to dairy cooperative Glanbia Ireland. Butterfat averages 4.23%, and protein 3.52%.

Every year, Ireland’s National Dairy Council (NDC) and Kerrygold single out farm families that attain the highest standards of excellence in dairy farming with a focus on milk quality, animal welfare and sustainable farming practices. This year, they selected 12 families from eight counties to receive the Quality Milk Award, an award they’ve now dubbed the ‘Oscars of the Dairy World’. The Banvilles won Best Milk Quality and were overall runners up.

Nominated by Glanbia Ireland, the Banvilles were an obvious choice. Awards are not new to the family. Patrick’s father won similar quality milk awards from Wexford Creamery where they delivered their milk when they were farming. Since 2014, they’ve received the Teagasc Animal Health Award five times. They’ve also received the Cell Check award, given to those farming families who achieve less than 73,000 SCC annually. Of the 18,000 dairy farmers in Ireland, only about 500 receive this award each year.

Staying ahead of the herd

Much of what the Banvilles do in terms of safeguarding herd health and ensuring milk quality Patrick learned from his father. It’s been worth the effort, they said, as somatic cell (SCC) and total bacterial counts (TBC) remain low (64,000 and 3,000 respectively) and herd health status high.

Humbly, Patrick and Carmel admitted that what they do to achieve those numbers isn’t complicated. “I suppose we do a lot of simple things, basic things, but we do them right every day,” said Patrick.

They pay close attention to feed and nutrition, especially at dry off when it’s important to keep the cows in good condition. Cleanliness and comfort are key, said Patrick, who said he cleans the cubicles twice a day when cows are indoors. The farm is relatively dry, and the cows spend most of their time on pasture some 300 days of the year. When they do come in, their comfort is top priority. For bedding they use dust-extracted chopped straw and lime, which they put atop rubber mats.

“Compared to other countries, we have a long grazing season, and that eliminates a lot of mastitis trouble,” he said. “When the cow goes out, the trouble goes out with her.”

The Banville farm is just 90 hectares, of which the cows graze 50 ha. On the other 40 ha. they grow tillage crops. There, they also make grass silage and graze young stock.

Equally important as diet and comfort is the milking routine. Patrick said they fore strip every cow at every milking. If there are sick cows in the herd, they’re milked last so as to avoid cross-contamination. Employees and the Banville children know the milking routine well. Consistency keeps issues at bay, said Patrick.

Rin 2010, the Banvilles put in a new milking parlour, a 20-unit (10 units per side) DeLaval unit. They use an automatic cluster remover system that Patrick said limits overmilking and, therefore, teat damage. They use post-teat spray only, but don’t feel the need to clean the cows before milking as they mostly come in from pasture quite clean. Once a year, they test the milking machine, and they change the liners twice a year. Patrick said this last point is very important as the liners come into contact with the teats.

“That has to be right,” he said.

The parlour washing routine is an important aspect of good hygiene, too, said Patrick. The Banvilles have an automatic washer for washing the milking parlour. They use cold water to rinse, followed by a cycle of lukewarm water, and then 80°C water with detergent. The wash cycle takes 10 minutes, and then the parlour is rinsed with a mix of cold water and peracetic acid. Under EU legislation, chlorine use has been banned by since 2019, but the Banvilles went chlorine-free one year before that. They said using hot water during the wash cycle is the secret to getting it right with chlorine-free detergents.

The other secret is milk recording, something the Banville family has been doing for 40 years. They milk record 10 times each year sometime between the 15th and the 18th of the month. But they don’t just record. They study the information carefully to see which cows and quarters need treating and which don’t.

“If you’re not recording them, you’ll never know,” said Patrick. “One bad cow can ruin the whole bunch.”

At dry off, teat sealant is essential, he added. Cows that score 75,000 SCC or less are selected to receive teat sealant only. Patrick estimates up to 60% of the herd will get sealant only at dry off. Having access to monthly milk records is a crucial part of the decision-making process as to which cows need treatment and which ones don’t. They don’t like to rush the process either, drying off no more than 10 cows per day. Standards slip when fatigue sets in, said Carmel.

“We always try to be totally organised, and there would always be a minimum of two people helping when drying off cows,” she said.

“Cleanliness is paramount,” she said. “Everything really has to be right – it’s not just one thing. It’s numerous things, really.”

From January 2022, new EU legislation will ban the use of blanket dry cow therapy due in an attempt to eliminate issues of antimicrobial resistance in both animals and humans.

Despite having confidence in their management system, Carmel and Patrick were still hugely surprised that they were nominated for the Milk Quality Award. “Everything we do, we do it the same every day,” said Carmel. “But it was a huge honour to be nominated.”

Fionnuala Malone, Senior Milk Quality Manager at Glanbia Ireland, isn’t surprised the Banvilles won the award, though. In fact, she said, of the 4,000 dairy farmers who deliver milk to the cooperative, they stood out. Not only have they had excellent milk quality results over the last number of years, but they make good use of their data to make constant improvements.

“They pay attention to detail, no issue is left unturned,” she said.

“They don’t take shortcuts to get low cell counts, she added. “Every time we go to the farm, we see small things – small things done really well.”

Text: Melanie Epp| Illustrations: Banville family

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