Name - Willie Carroll
Farm - Farm partnership with parents on dairy and beef enterprise. 130-acres.
Performance - 483kgs milk solids sold last year (30kgs per cow per year)
Willie Carroll is on the verge of the big 4-0, though he still exudes a youthful energy, not to mention a love for the industry.
Born and raised on the family farm in South Tipperary and within view of the picturesque Galtee Mountains, Willie and his parents run not only a dairy farm but also a beef enterprise run side-by-side.
Willie is currently in a farm partnership with his parents and has been since making his return to the agricultural industry.
Funnily enough, the family were not always only into dairy farming, having ran a pig production unit up until 2006. Willie admits that the family had always kept beef cattle at the same time and ran the dairy with between 40-50 cows milked daily, though the primary focus was on the pig enterprise with up to 350 sows towards the end.
The started to make the progression into mostly cattle, after pig production in the country began to slow down and workers hard to come by. This is what encouraged the Carroll’s to make the complete transition from what was a lifelong enterprise for the family, to focusing solely on the dairy sector. That and the stricter regulations put in place for pig production units put pressure on the Carroll’s to decide if they were in or out, with updates to the piggery to abide by regulations estimated to cost upwards on €500,000.
“Employing people was the big problem.”, Willie said.
“There were a few decent sized pig farms located around us and we were only going to be competing with them for land for slurry…We had no land of our own to take the slurry. The only option was to spend a fortune getting slurry shipped…We just pulled the plug there and then,”, Willie explained.
Willie himself was a third-generation pig farmer, with his grandfather having kept them before his father Anthony. It was the recession and the decline of the pig industry which is what finally pushed the family to switch their full focus to dairy farming and now, they couldn’t be happier!
“The father was into pigs, then cattle and finally he's now a cow man,”, Willie laughed.
“There was actually a stage that we were considering packing in the cows altogether, but we just kept it going because it was there. It has gone the full circle around now,” he added.
Willie says it was always his hope to return to the farm at some stage, though first, he set off to pursue his college studies. This took him out West and to Sligo IT in particular, where he studied provisional engineering for two years, but only after studying agriculture first.
He eventually made his way to Kildalton Agricultural college, where he completed a two-year green certificate course.
“I went to Kildalton in 2006, when we decided to give up the pigs,”, he said.
Willie readily admits, that although he now loves his choice of career, it was not his maiden choice.
“My father needed a hand and I said I would help out for the summer and I haven’t left yet,”, Willie joked.
“I was kind of in between things at the time, awaiting results from exams and that…With the lads working in the piggery and around it was good craic”, he said.
He says he received his first major encouragement to go farming fulltime when he was approached by a neighbour to see if he would be interested in taking land, as the latter was looking to enter the early retirement scheme.
“He knew I had done the green cert…So I went and rented that farm beside us. It was about 70-acres and is right next door to us”, he said.
“I took that on myself, getting my own herd number. At the time we were milking 70 cows at the time and with the quota, we couldn’t hold much more.”, he added.
Willie kept on this farm for just over seven years, buying in approximately 150 bull calves and finishing them for beef, before joining forces with his father when the quotas were abolished. The team of two then used Willie’s rented land beside their home as the new grazing platform for their enterprise, before increasing their herd size.
“Our intentions was to go as high as 90 cows at the time, but I said sure we will just go up another ten and then another and it went from there,”, Willie explained.
The Carroll family are currently milking a herd of 120 cows, consisting of a herd of Holstein Friesians. Willie says they are content with numbers at the moment, though says they would be equipped to stock more if needed on their 130-acre holding.
Upon his return home, Willie implemented one change on the farm, which was using AI and this enabled them to transition to a more Holstein/Friesian herd. This means the herd is also relatively young, with some of the older members of the herd culled, again upon Willie’s return.
As well as the dairy side of things, the Carroll’s also finish all bulls to beef on the farm, a business continued by Willie and one he had done prior to entering the farm partnership with his father.
“We finish all bulls on the farm…They would be the Friesian calves born”, he said.
Last year they farm began using Aubrac genetics, with the aims of producing more profitable calves for the beef industry. They also tried a few Parathenese genetics and they are happy with the resulting calves this year.
“We are happy with the calves…There is no problem at calving at all with them. They have a nice shape to them. This year we have used a lot of LM AI.”, he explained.
All calves on the farm are finished at 19-20 months, sent directly to the factory. All of the bulls on the farm are Zerograzed, meaning they are housed for their second year up until finishing.
“We do all the Zerograzing ourselves. We bought it back in 2011 I think… We can stock a lot heavier because of it and it makes management of bulls easier. Anyone will tell you that you have to watch them in fields. You have to keep them in small numbers and they do tear into each other quite a lot,”, he said.
Farming duties are mainly carried out by Willie, whilst his father Anthony still helps out on a regular basis and another local man and friend helps out relief milking when needed.
“He (dad) is out every day with me. I would be lost without him”, he said.
Hopes for the future:
There are no major plans for a shake-up on the farm, though as mentioned, they this year used mainly LM AI straws. Willie also hopes to add an Automatic cluster remover to the parlour at some stage.
“I hope to add the ACR at some stage, just to make milking a bit more comfortable,”, Willie noted.
“If anything, I would drop cow numbers by ten…If we go with any more, we will need bigger everything,”, he added.
The father and son duo aim to continue their gradual progression and success, continuing a system that has fared them well thus far. In the coming weeks, Silage is on the agenda and the main thought on the mind of Willie and the Carroll’s.
“We have nothing really else to do on the farm this year, bar a shed to renovate for calves,”, he said.
Why he loves what we does:
Willie enjoys not only the satisfaction of watching the results of his hard work with his own eyes but also the freedom of being his own boss.
“It's being your own boss. Every year you set yourself little goals, such as improving cow performance or grazing better or cutting down on meal…With the way the weather was this year it made it a bit fun, it took the boredom out of it,”, Willie joked.
Enthusiastic, with a real love and passion for the industry. Willie Carroll will continue doing what he does, always joking and with a smile on his face.