Nicholas Cooke comes from a long line of farmers in his native Limerick and is one of the core members of Tom Cooke & Sons Agri Contractors.
He was born and reared on a dairy farm near Bottomstown, Hospital in Co. Limerick and the Cooke family have actually been farming these lands for over 300 years, having first started out in the 1700’s.
“We are dairy farming at home.” Nicholas explained to Kevin of That’s Farming.
“One of the sheds has a sign from when it was built in the 1700’s” Nicholas commented when asked how long they farmed in Hospital.
Together the family run a spring calving herd of British Friesian cows, 140-strong, all milked in the family’s 16-unit Dairymaster parlour. The family also have a few Montbeliarde cows mixed through their milking herd.
“There are about 140 milking cows, all British Friesian’s and a few Montbeliardes.” Nicholas said.
“We have only a handful of them” said the 24-year-old of the Montbeliarde cows.
All replacements are reared by the family on the farm themselves and they also rear any bull calves born on the farm, and not sold early, for finishing. The family run with three Angus stock bulls in their herd currently, as they look to produce the best calves for finishing.
“We finish nearly all of the bull calves as bullocks, at about 22-months.” Nicholas told Kevin.
“There are three Angus Stock bulls there for this Summer...They are always good calves and kill out good,” he adds.
Having both a beef and dairy enterprise in operation meant that the children of the Cooke family always played a significant role on the farm as youngsters, whether it was feeding calves or cleaning out sheds, they always had their hands dirty.
“We were full-time on the farm when we were young, between feeding calves, cleaning out sheds or tractor work.” said the contractor.
Tom Cooke still is the “main man” on the dairy side of things, but he also set up his own contracting business over forty years ago, Tom Cooke & Sons Agri Contractors, which is now run by his four sons, Nicholas, Ciarán, Fergal and Kevin.
“He is the main man on the dairy farm and the books of the contracting.” the young farmer noted.
History of Tom Cooke & Sons/Nick’s journey -
It all commenced for Tom Cooke in his native Limerick back in the late 1970’s/early 1980’s, with the purchase of a Bamford square baler.
“He started about forty years ago, he was sixteen.” Nicholas explained.
“He started with a Bamford small square baler and a Leyland tractor.”
Tom began his enterprise carrying out square baler work for neighbouring farmers, before branching out to Co. Tipperary and Co. Cork, baling straw, hay and haylage. Upon his sons all reaching the age to legally drive tractors, Tom step aside to allow them to assume control.
There are four brothers in total involved in the family business, Nick (24), Ciarán (22), Fergal (20) and Kevin (19), with each one also attending college. Kevin is currently studying agriculture in Pallaskenry, whilst Ciarán is studying mechanical engineers in UL and Fergal is studying Maths and Actuarial Science in Cork.
“We all had our tractor licences before we knew it.” Nick laughed.
“It is mainly just the four of us and Dad drives when he has to.”
Nicholas himself is also just after completing his own college studies, after taking the bold step of studying Veterinary at Warsaw University in Poland for five and a half years! The four brothers now share driving duties for the family business, when they are not in college and at home.
“Myself and my three brothers do all of the driving when we are not at college and at home...We do it mostly in the evenings during college term” said Nicholas.
“I am newly qualified as a Vet. I did that in Poland.” he added.
The family offer their contracting services to farmers in the locality, whilst they also venture into parts of Cork and Tipperary. The main focus of their work would be the full list of baled silage services from start to finish, including mowing, raking, tedding, baling and wrapping.
“We do all the usual stuff for baled silage.” Nick explained to Kevin of That’sFarming.
They still to-this-day produce straw and even offer straw delivery to farmers. As well as this, the Cooke boy’s also focus their efforts on slurry spreading and hedge-cutting duties
“We deliver straw nearly full-time when that time of year comes around. We draw them all by tractors and two thirty-foot trailers.” Nick noted.
“We invested in a hedge-cutter last year (2018), so we are doing that and a small bit of slurry on the side.”
The four brothers, fittingly enough, are currently working with a fleet of four tractors and they have a keen eye for the Deutz. So dedicated are the family to the green of the Deutz, that Tom even took a trip out to the Deutz factory in recent years.
“We have three Deutz and one New Holland.” Nick said.
“We kind of fell into them (Deutz tractors) really. The dealer beside us is very good, we have always had good service and good back up…The dealer actually brought dad out to the Deutz factory in October.” He continued.
Tractors: Deutz 6160, Deutz m625, Deutz K420, New Holland TM120.
Grass: Claas 2800 rake, McHale ProGlide mounted mower, 4332 Kverneland disc mower, McHale Fusion 3+, McHale Fusion 3, Lely 1020 8-rotor tedder.
Other: Cross 2,000-gallon slurry tanker, Keltec 10 bale chaser, 30ft bale trailer, Ferri Hedgecutter. Redrock Agitator.
“We bought the second Fusion 3 two or three weeks ago.” Nick explained.
Future of Tom Cooke & Sons -
The main aim for the Cooke family over the coming years is the consolidation of the work started by Tom over forty years ago. Nicholas also admits that the family may add to the fleet in the coming years, noting that they will consider adding another Deutz tractor to their team. This might not be the last arrival either, however.
“The second baler and the hedgecutter only came in the past month and I am sure that eventually we may get a tractor for pushing and pulling front and back mowers.” Nicholas told Kevin.
Otherwise, Nicholas and his brothers are more than happy to do what they have been doing for most of their lives now, contracting with a smile on their faces.
“For the time being it is going good, so why change,” Nicholas explained.
The Cooke family will also stick to their dairy roots over the coming years, with Nicholas admitting it is only going to get bigger if anything. Every year they aim to increase their milking herd in size by between 20-30 cows, something not likely to change any time soon.
“That is only going to get bigger…I’d say there will be a fight for it (the farm) yet.” he joked.
The family will also be joined by their sister, Sarah Jane, behind the wheel at some stage in the coming year as she is about to receive her tractors licence, further strengthening the family bond within the company.
In terms of Nicholas and his own personal aspirations, he hopes to take on a role as a vet in a practice in the near future and who knows, someday he may even set up his own. This definitely won’t mean the 24-year-old will be abandoning his contracting roots, however.
“I’ll try and fall into a practice first.” Nick joked.
Why Contracting -
What are the reasons keeping Nicholas and his brothers behind the wheel you ask? There are plenty, such as pride in continuing something started by their father many years ago and a passion for all and any type of machinery.
“It is the love of machinery really.” Nicholas explained.
For Nicholas and the boys, Contracting is more a way of life than anything else and it is all they have ever known. They do not and will never see it as a career, as they simply love it way too much. They also look forward to dealing with and meeting the family’s loyal customer base every season.
“Some people see it as a job, but when you love that you’re doing it is not a job.” Said the contractor.
“It is good craic like…We know all of the farmers very well and we always have good craic with them too. You spend as much time talking to them as doing work. It just makes it so much better.” he added.
Do you want to get in touch with the Cooke’s or want to follow their contracting journey? You can do so via their official Facebook page here.*Are you a contractor looking to share their story like Nicholas and the team of Tom Cooke & Sons? Contact us now via email at email@example.com.*