A trek across the globe to New Zealand to delve into a spot of dairy farming shaped Christopher Tuffy’s future.
Christopher completed his Green Certificate in Mountbellew in 2008 and progressed to Kildalton shortly afterwards to enrol in their Advanced Certificate in Dairy Herd Management.
“I completed my placement in New Zealand and that is when I got the real passion for the sector. I had no doubt in my head when I returned to Ireland. I wanted to milk cows.” Christopher told Catherina of That’s Farming.
The Tuffy family has always had a strong presence within the Agricultural sector, so it was only a natural progression for the Enniscrone, Co. Sligo native to embrace his farming blood.
A major leap
The family-farm experienced major changes in 2011, as Christopher and his father always had a desire to steer their enterprise in a different direction, with their eyes securely fixed on expansion.
“We only had 20 acres around the house and the home-farm was very fragmented, with sixty acres spread out in three different blocks. It wasn’t viable long-term for two of us, so we had to make changes.” Christopher explained.
Christopher and his father ventured into a milk production partnership in 2012, moving from their existing home-farm to a leased block of land in North Sligo.
“We acquired the land in 2011 and started milking in 2012.” Christopher added.
At the age of just 21, Christopher took over a block from his father and started milking 90 cows.
Five years later, the 26-year-old is now milking 150 spring-calving cows in the holding based in Doonally, Co. Sligo, while his father rears the heifers and the calves on the home-farm.
Traditionally, Holstein Friesian cows have dominated the pastures but the herd is now split between Jersey and high EBI black and whites.(Holstein and British Friesian) with ambitious performance targets set. 86% of the cows calved down in a 6-week calving window.
Performance and profitability- Setting Targets
Christopher’s ideal cow is one that hits the scales within the 525-550kg range, with high fertility, good protein and solids. Currently, his cows are doing over 410kg milk solids, with approximately three lactations per cow.
“We are slightly disappointed with it. The herd is young, but one the herd matures, we will push on the Kgs of milk solids. It is a heavy farm and this is a major factor. that has to be taken into account.” Christopher explained.
“We want to get the replacement rate up to 20% and we want to start pushing up towards that five lactations, where we can get optimum performance, as Teagasc suggests.” Christopher added.
Cows pumped with top quality genetics and a strong emphasis on grassland management are identified as the backbone of the Tuffy’s thriving enterprise.
“Grass is always at the core of the system. You have to try and feed them with grass first and foremost. That is the way that we are driving to drive our system.” Christopher explained.
As soon as calves drop, Christopher is eager to get the cows turned out to new pastures, a major part of his farm philosophy. 12 tonnes of grass was grown on the Tuffy’s farm this year and Christopher is quick to note the huge variation in terms of the quality of the ground.
“Some of our ground is very heavy and is only growing about five tonnes. Our drier ground can grow seventeen tonnes. It makes it hardier managed. This year for the second half of the year, some of our heavier ground could not be grazed because of saturation. That put pressure on the system.” Christopher explained.
Running the show as a Father and Son
Christopher and his father are continuing to reap rewards from their milking partnership, as Christopher manages the grazing platform, while father rears all the calves and heifers.
“My father and I have a very good relationship and he will step in anytime. It does help that we are in separate yards and we are not on each other’s toes all the time." Christopher explained.
“We never defined roles when we were expanding- we just fell into them. We respect each other’s decisions and discuss all the major decisions together.” He added.
Christopher admits that when he started out farming independently when he was just 21-years-old, it was rather “daunting”, but he is quick to draw attention to those who supported him on his venture.
Christopher became a member of the West Awake discussion group, which allowed him to meet like-minded progressive and positive farming figures in the dairy circles.
“Matt Ryan was our facilitator and interaction with the group really gave me great advice, inspiration and guidance. I had fantastic support when I was expanding, from my family and fellow farmers alike.” Christopher said.
Christopher is also part of the West-Sligo branch of the Aurivo Farm Profitability Programme for the past number of years.
"I got a lot of support over the last three years from Roberta McDonald and Vincent Griffith." Christopher added.
Advice for young aspiring farmers
When asked what advice he would give to young people starting out in the Agricultural industry, Christopher is quick to draw attention to the wise word of wisdom that he received and followed.
“Keep it simple. Do the basics right and know what drives your system and makes it profitable.” Christopher said,
“In dairy, the two things that will make you profitable are grass and cows. Regardless if you are in liquid milk or Spring-calving, a fertile cow is absolutely key.” He added.
" It's important to retain an interest in other activities outside the farm gate. I gave up football when we expanded and I returned to it this year. It's only then when I realised how much I missed it." Christopher added.
As Christopher, a young Sligo man drives a productive and profitable dairy enterprise into the future, his sheer passion, enthusiasm and determination can be easily identified.
“What makes me proud is to look out the field to my herd of cows grazing and saying to myself ‘they are mine!’. Christopher said.
Christopher is currently satisfied with his cow base and has no intentions to increase numbers on this particular leased block, but is eager to drive performance of his 150 cows, using genetics for improvement.
“The plan in the next three years is to hit 3.8% protein and 450kg of milk solids. I have another seven years of this lease, so I have plenty of time to make decisions,” Christopher concluded.
If you are a young farmer and want to share your story, get in touch as we would love to hear from you.