Ronan Joyce - a dairy farmer - lives in Co. Mayo, with his wife Elaine and three-month-old daughter Annie.
Growing his herd year-on-year, Ronan has a very modest farm set-up. He appreciates that his farm is his business and he has a very modern outlook on Irish farming in general.
Ronan started farming in his own right just six years ago after inheriting fourteen-acres of farmland and fifty-six cows in 2013 after his father Padraic passed away.
He now milks one hundred and twenty cows and tends to seventy hectares of farmland, having bought fifty-acres from his mother Eileen.
Having tried many dairy breeds, Ronan has found that with the single milk day and long walks, that Jersey crossbreeds tend to work the best on his farm. Ronan no longer has any of the stock that he started out with.
The herd is mostly a 75% Jersey, crossed with a New Zealand Friesian or high-EBI Friesian. The herd is predominantly New Zealand bred-Jerseys with a small mix of Irish and Dutch in-between. Ronan likes to say that he is building the cow around his system and not the other way around.
A noticeable attribute of Ronan’s is his relaxed attitude, yet highly regulated methods of operating his farm. He milks for better fat and protein over volume, as it makes better economic sense to him.
“We’re always open to other systems, this just happens to be the one that works for us” said Ronan, who is working with about 10% solids a year.
The once-a-day system works well on the farm because it results in high fertility rates amongst the herd. The cows are AI’d for six weeks and then the stock bull will be brought in to clean up. Ronan said that there is usually 85% to 90% in-calf in the first six weeks, so the herd were all in calf in just nine weeks.
For a West of Ireland farm, this one has very little housing and the hardy calves are mostly born outside. Ronan’s land is also quite fragmented, and he tries to keep the cows in pasture for 280 days per year often walking up to three kilometres to the parlour every day.
“The smaller cows with the black hoof are far better equipped to walk” he explained. They went out to pasture on February 20th this year and will remain there for most of the coming year.
Although Ronan has purchased all the land on his farm, this doesn’t match his philosophy that leasing land is a preferable option. He believes that people should not be sentimental about land and Irish people, in particular, have such a deep-rooted attachment to their land that it is often to the detriment of the farm.
“Basically, the bank can end up owning the farm, if more people leased their land, I think there would be a lot better, constant use made out of it,” said Ronan.
Perhaps Ronan has attained this way of thinking while he was working on farms in Australia, America, Scotland and Africa, to mention just a few.
Some years ago, Ronan won a scholarship to work on a farm in New Zealand. He said that he learned a lot from the experience: “You will never walk onto someone else’s farm without learning something” he smiled.
Indeed, he was so interested in farming as a business, Ronan asked another New Zealand farm to teach him everything, from their financial records to grassland management and general operations.
In return, Ronan worked on the farm for a couple of months. Ronan said that the training was worth it as it was here that he learned the importance of keeping it simple.
Keep it Simple
This is exactly the attitude that Ronan has applied on his own farm. “Simplicity is the most important thing for me in agriculture,” said Ronan, who this year cleared his milking parlour of all its extras.
“For me, it’s just a cluster with an on and off button” explained Ronan, who uses a twelve-unit cluster parlour.
By simplifying everything, Ronan has seen a reduction in milking times. He now plans to get rid of all his machinery and hire a contractor for all the future work on the farm as the business-minded Mayo-man has worked out his costs and believes that it will actually reduce his expenses.
For Ronan, it’s important to have a good work-life balance and he couldn’t operate his farm the way he does without his farm-hand Cathal Broghan who he says that he is very grateful for.
“It’s important to be able to take a day off sometimes”. “You need someone that you can trust and wants to work the same system you do,” said Ronan.
This young farmer is a member of various online discussion groups such as ‘Pioneering Once-a-day in Ireland’ (POADII) and maintains that “an hour on the computer talking to someone who’s doing the same thing can be better than going out there and spending an hour doing it wrong.”
He believes in the sharing of information and ideas and it’s that type of progressive thinking that will see Ronan’s farm thrive.
If you are a young farmer and you want to share your story, email Catherina- firstname.lastname@example.org - with a short bio.