Christopher McCarthy and his family operate a dairy farm in West Cork, though they are not the typical dairying family.
The family were formerly running a beef operation, before converting to dairy back in 2015. This was due to both of Christopher’s parents coming from dairy backgrounds and due in part to the bad beef prices as of late.
Now they run a winter milking herd, meaning they milk and calf their cows all year round, on a 60-acre farm. They run with pedigree Holsteins and Jersey cows.
“We are different from your convention milking herd. We don’t stop calving and we milk right throughout the year” he said.
“We found it hard when the parents wanted to go farming. Land with quotas were going for crazy money so they decided to go with beef at the start.” he said.
They started off with beef, finishing cattle on their farm, until a couple of bad years of beef prices forced the family to consider a change. The quotas on land had just lapsed at the same time, marking a perfect time for the family to move to dairy.
“At the beginning we were buying dairy heifers...We are milking about 40 at the moment and in Spring we should be milking about 50”, he said.
Their breeding is slightly different than most farms, with the family choosing to use North American genetics, all in the name of milk yields.
Transition into agriculture:
Christopher, although having a farming background, did not get into the industry on a whim. Instead, he completed a two year Dairy herd management course and graduated last year in 2016.
Now Christopher is full time working at home, while he also does some relief milking for some other local farmers in the area. The team milk twice a day and start off at about 7am in the morning, with the second milk around 5pm in the evening. They are a Spring and Winter calving farm, making these months a bit busier.
Christopher is a member of his local Kilmeen Macra club and is a part of the young breeders society for pedigree Holsteins. That’s not the end of this man’s talents, as he also competes showing cattle throughout the summer months.
“I show from around May until the National Dairy show.” he said.
This year saw Christopher have the champion jersey at the Clonakilty show, while he also had the champion jersey at the Skibbereen show. He was also out in Belgium this year, with the Holstein breeders, where the spent a week learning all about how to prepare cattle for shows and the process of showing them.
“It’s a different world, it shows how high standards are in Ireland” he said.
When asked had he always planned to get back into farming, Chris is quite adamant his interest always lay in cows.
“It was always cows” he joked,
Like in every sector of the agricultural world, costs are the main challenge facing Christopher and the family.
“Overhead costs are a challenge. We breed high yielding cows so the high yielding, fertility and getting grassland management right is important” he added.
He also said time management can be a challenge, and says it can be hard to get time off in the evenings. The team place a strong emphasis on grass management and the team have started zero grazing this year.
“We feed about a tonne or tonne and a half per cow” he stated.
When asked what advice he would give, Chris came straight back with the response “go to other farms”.
“Go to other farms and look around. Have your mind set what you want to do and follow what you want to do” he said
He used his own system as an example of paving your own way, noting that cross breeds work on other farms but not his. He says he found, that pedigrees were the cows for him and called on other farmers to make the choice best suited to them and not other farmers.
“Cross breds can be a lovely animal, but for my system they wouldn’t cut the bread here” he noted.
Why he loves dairying:
He noted that the freedom is a major factor behind his love for the game.
“You can do what you want and you are not tied down” he said.
“You can do what you want, the day is your own” he added.
Christopher said the farm is nearly at its max stocking rate, though they are in the process of finishing a new shed. Christopher stated that the cow’s comfort is a major player on his farm. He says this has enabled some cows to produce up to 40 litres for them, with jerseys up to 26 litres when going good.
“ Cow comfort is a huge thing here” he said.
“When I see cows sitting down, chewing the cud, that’s all you need to see” he concluded.
A deep love for cows and all things dairy, Christopher’s love for the game is obvious and abundant and it’s clear he will be in the sector for many years to come.