Stanley Graham in one of his farm sheds at the Killeshandra farm.

Grahams surprised to win top award

DAIRY Killeshandra farmers to be showcased on TV along with 10 other NDC & Kerrygold Quality Milk Award finalists

It’s probably a greater compliment to the Graham family that they hadn’t done anything differently from any other year, yet 2020 saw them collect the top prize in Lakeland’s Milk Quality Awards.

The father and daughter team of Stanley and Tanya Graham shared the ‘Supreme Champion’ title with a County Down family; and also claimed the <500,000 litre producer category in the Republic.

The exceptionally high quality of milk produced by the Grahams saw them selected over the 3,200 other farm families who supply 1.85bn litres of milk annually to Lakeland Dairies.

By claiming the Lakelands title, they have also been shortlisted as one of 11 finalists for the NDC & Kerrygold Quality Milk Awards.

Given this year’s constraints, the finalists will be showcased, and the winner revealed, on television during a three-minute special extended ad break of the Late Late Show on Friday, October 30.

Standing on the sun-drenched lane at their Mullaghdoo farm earlier this summer, the pair seemed genuinely taken aback by the Lakeland accolade. They struggle to put their finger on what lay behind the success.

“The cows went right for us, just a bit of luck,” says a modest Stanley of winning the awards. “We noticed that our cell count was low all year, but thought nothing of it - it just happened.”

Cavan farming family, the Grahams have been shortlisted for the NDC & Kerrygold Quality Milk Awards

That’s not to say they aren’t thrilled.

“It’s a great achievement and we’re delighted to win it,” Tanya pitches in.

“It’s something you never expect to get,” adds Stanley. “We never even dreamt of getting an award.”

The pair are carrying on the work commenced by Stanley’s father, Jim nearly half a century ago. Jim still keeps himself busy about the farm, and greets the Celt with a smile and a nod as he passes by on a tractor. Having previously worked in Richardson’s sawmills, Stanley went from helping out his father in the evenings to taking on the farm full time in 1999.

At that stage they were milking about 15 cows.

“We’ve been increasing the herd ever since that,” says Tanya - they now have a herd of 89 cows.

“We would always have had friesian cows,” says Stanley. “We probably would have gone into a bit more holstein in the last few years.”

They seek out advice from Bobby Franks of IHFA when it comes to selecting AI bulls - Stanley describes Bobby as possessing “a wealth of knowledge.”

“You could ask him about bulls from 50 years ago and he’d know,” adds Tanya.

The Grahams milk twice daily, and work it between them to ensure there’s “always someone here” to milk. Tanya, graduated from UCD with a degree in agri-environmental science in 2017. She combines dairying with a full time job in Lakeland Dairies.

“I like the job. I’m working between two labs at the moment - the micro lab and the UHT lab. I work in the quality department, so we’re testing all the products before they go out.”

The Celt notes that she’s probably tested milk produced on her own farm.

“We would, but everything’s mixed into silos, you’d never know your own milk.”

When the conversation turns to future plans - the limitations of land means “we’re at our max at the minute anyway”.

They intend to continue with reseeding and shoring work at the farm a few miles west of Killeshandra which they describe as “heavy Cavan ground”.

“We have to work with what we’ve got,” notes Tanya. “Getting cows out early is a problem.”

Stanley and Tanya chatting while checking on their cows.

The third generation of Graham farmers came on board in May 2015 with Tanya entering a partnership with Stanley.

How’s that working out?

“It can be challenging,” replies Stanley, as a good hearted dig at his daughter.

“We’re very opinionated, the both of us,” Tanya declares. “We can have our own ideas and have rows about them.”

“It works out in the end,” assures Stanley.

Are they confident about the future of dairying?

Tanya is heartened by the market for powders which she notes accounts for the majority of milk.

“Like everything else it’s going to get its turn,” says Stanley. “There will be ups and downs and that’s just the way of it.”

The Grahams are eager to stress they didn’t win the award alone.

“Anyone who has helped us along the way, we’re very thankful. We have had people come out to give us advice from the creamery and elsewhere. It’s not a one family show - without these other people you would have nothing.”