This week, Kevin speaks to Rory O’Regan, a 22-year-old dairy farmer who doubled his herd size in just over two years following a family tragedy which accelerated his return home to farm! Read his story below.
Location: Horse and Jockey, Co. Tipperary.
Farm: Dairy farm, milking 125 cows.
Performance: Achieved 480 kgs milk solids in 2017. Currently achieving 26 litres.
Rory O’Regan’s love for farming was something developed from a very young age. Growing up on a 100 strong dairy herd, he always wanted to pursue a career within the industry though it happened sooner than anyone could have hoped for.
“I was always into farming as a young lad, helping out a small bit.”, he said.
He hails from a place called Horse and Jockey in the Premier county that is Tipperary, where he and his family run their dairy enterprise. The farm is made up of a 183-acre holding, with 125 cows for milking, in a Spring milking system. All milking duties are carried out on the families 12-unit DeLaval Parlour.
The cows are currently a three-way cross, 45% Jersey and the remaining 55% British Holstein Friesian. This was done to achieve higher protein levels and a way of improving the farm’s efficiency.
A difficult period struck the O’Regan household six years ago when Rory was only 16-years-old.
His father, Donal, had been out dosing calves that morning with no problems, but he was struck down with an aneurysm later that day, which resulted in his untimely death. This, as one could imagine, led to the commencing of a difficult period for the family and an uncertain one to say the least.
“I was sixteen and I was getting more and more into farming when my father passed away from an aneurysm. He dosed calves that morning and died that evening,”, Rory explained.
This left the family not only with a tragedy to overcome but a dairy farm to run at the same time, something which they found very challenging. His mother Mairead had to get more involved in the farm also, to keep the show on the road.
“Basically the next morning after my father died, the cows had to be milked. Most families have to deal with a death on its own, but we had to deal with the cows too. Unfortunately, even that evening after he died, the cows had to be milked,”, Rory said.
Rory was in school at the time of his father’s death, with the plan to continue his education further before returning home to farm. He said it was lucky that his brother Daniel was studying veterinary at the time and the pair were able to get by.
“Myself and my brother knuckled down and we did the nights, spring and then got farm relief help in when I was in school and he was back in college. We then did all the weekends”, he told Kevin of ThatsFarming.
Daniel has now gone back to college again, this time to study medicine, leaving the running of the farm to Rory.
“I did have the option to go to college, my mother would never have stopped me, but I just had this love and want to go back to the land,”, he said.
“It was always a love of mine,” he added.
Rory did eventually make his way to college, studying a two-year dairy herd management course in Kildalton.
“Farmers around me told me to go to Kildalton and learn a bit more and thankfully I did.”, Rory.
This is where changes came on the farm, due to the extra burden of a college education to fund and the farm switched from winter milking system to the current spring milking, whilst also decreasing milking numbers from 100 to 67.
“We had to bring in labour, which did put a strain on us. We had to cut back cow numbers and go to a spring milking system because of the situation,”, Rory stated.
Following his two year spell in Kildalton, Rory returned home to the family farm. Although he did gain some experience before his return, he does wish he had the opportunity to learn more via travelling abroad, though he remains happy and positive in his choice.
“I just wanted to get back to the farm at home. I do wish I had gone travelling to New Zealand maybe and gotten a bit more experience, but maybe I will get time again to do it.”, he said.
He also advised anyone that may be making the return home to their family farm, to get as much experience on other enterprises as they can, as well as studying agriculture.
“I know my fair share about farming, but there is a lot more to it than you would think”, he admitted.
He returned to the 67-strong milking herd three years ago at the age of 19. Rory said he did not expect it to be as challenging as it was and says convincing the banks of his dream was the first major hurdle. He says if it was not for backing from AIB, he would not have gotten to where he is today.
“My first challenge was the banks...AIB thankfully backed me and I increased my herd to what it is today, 125 cows,”, he said.
Rory said his father’s untimely passing, created a lot of undue stress on the family with very little support from anyone.
He noted that he has spoken to many families in recent weeks, who have faced the same hardship with little to no help.
“We have met many families recently who have gone through something similar and I hope to speak to more in the future“, he explained.
Rory admitted that if it were not for the support he and the family received from the head of a discussion group, Matt Ryan and his Teagasc advisor Lorcan Dooley that he may not have got to where he is.
“There is a farmers group with Matt Ryan for local farmers. I got into the group with Matt Ryan. Matt Ryan really did help me with what route I should go and even the financial side of the farm,”, Rory explained.
“I really learned my farming at the discussion groups. It helped me to drive on the farm. Matt was always there for us, I could ring him anytime and he really helped the family,”, he noted.
Rory said after his father died, the family felt alone with no help. He moved to reaffirm that there is help available through kind-hearted people such as Matt. He then called for something to be done or put in place, to help families like his own who have dealt with sudden passings.
“We kind of lived in a bubble and didn’t notice the many other families around who were going through similar problems”, he said.
“There are so many out there that will help, like Matt Ryan, that can keep you going and help your family...You have to look for the help yourself, unfortunately, which I think is wrong. I think when a family loses someone, there should be someone to step in and help run that farm...The family have to survive and keep going”, he added.
Rory also recently participated in a Teagasc calf rearing farm walk event, opening his gates for visitors. Prior to the event, he admitted to being daunted, though says he thoroughly enjoyed the experience and the chance to share his story.
“It was nerve-wracking as I was so young. It was a proud day and a turning point for the farm,”, he said.
Rory hopes to continue the farm's recent success and even build up cow numbers, though gradually. He says the land will allow him to increase the milking herd to over 150, though he will not rush into it just for the sake of it.
“Take your time, is my motto. I have the ability to milk 150 cows, but I am taking my time. I am very happy where I am now and I will make that step in a couple of years,”, he noted.
By this time next year, Rory aims to milk something between 130-140 cattle. He hopes to achieve at some point, having a 500kg animal and achieve 500kgs milk solids. He says he will continue down the Jersey cross route, as he is happy so far.
Looking to continue his father’s proud farming tradition. He may have wanted to get into farming at a later stage, though sometimes life has other plans.
In a nutshell, Rory simply loves what he does and says it is and has always been a part of who he is. Continuing his father’s legacy with good grace and pride, Rory O’Regan has achieved so much in just over two years, imagine what he is capable of in another few.