Danny O’Connell grew up on his father Daniel’s dairy farm in Co. Kerry where they milked approximately sixty cows.
Knowing that he wanted to continue life as a farmer, he completed the Green Cert in Tralee in 1994.He returned to work at home for another year or so until adversity struck. At the age of just twenty-years-old, Danny and became seriously ill when he contracted meningitis.
As a result, he lost his left leg below the knee and the tops of nearly all of his fingers.
Not one to let things get the better of him, Danny progressed through his long recovery and when he felt confident enough, he returned to help out on the family farm.
The process of recovery took approximately four years before he felt back to his old self.A couple of years later, an opportunity arose to rent out a farm just two miles down the road and Danny established his own dairy farm.
“I started with about thirty cows and built it up to about seventy," said the Kerryman.There he continued to run the enterprise for many years until he eventually decided to move home and take over the family farm.
Daniel wanted more assistance and his son had gained great experience in farm management.“Between myself and my father, with his age and my disability, we make up just one good guy,” laughed Danny - who has a very positive attitude towards the men’s abilities.
“Part of the challenge is that it requires a little bit of thinking,” he added. The father and son duo now run a 160-cow dairy farm with a small milking platform of forty-acres.
They have been operating a zero-grazing system for the past fifteen years.They originally started this method using a round baler but have since purchased a trailer that can cut the grass and pick it up all at one pass.
The trailer then brings it to the barriers where the cows can feed and then they are housed all night. The cows are out during the day when they will eat nearly 65% of their daily requirements at the barriers.
In terms of managing the farm with a disability, Danny has to make labour savings wherever possible. “We have to think about easy ways of doing things obviously,” he said.
Thankfully, he has not been compromised in his ability to operate machinery, thanks to the fact that most tractors are now possibly more technologically advanced than the majority of cars.
“I have a prosthetic leg that I can walk around on perfectly. If you met me in the street you wouldn’t know - my walk is as normal as the next person,” he smiled.
The use of his hands is not fully compromised either, as the forty-three-year-old admits, “I suppose that they’re less sensitive than what they were at the start but overall it’s quite good”.
The farm is made up of Holstein Friesians as the O’Connell’s breeding policy is to achieve a high-output.
“We push as hard as we can; we average about seven-and-a-half-thousand-litres and in excess of five hundred and fifty kilos of milk solids per cow”.
The pair are currently transitioning from winter into spring calving, with the help of the Dairymaster MooMoniter system.
The pens have auto-drafting gates which allow for easier AI and streamlining the milking process. The father-of-two has an eighteen-unit Dairymaster parlour with sequential baling.
The cows are AI’d for approximately twelve to thirteen weeks and then a stock bull with an average E.B.I of €276 will mop up for another three to five weeks. The O’Connells focus on high fertility and good milking traits when selecting replacements.
Their breeding policies and bull selection would be almost identical to the Lyons Research Farm as Danny takes his guidance from Karina Pierce - Associate Professor of Dairy Production at UCD (University College Dublin).
“I have always wanted to be a dairy farmer - I’m happy enough to keep going,” said the optimistic Kerryman, who admitted that he would like to take more time off to spend time with his wife Mairéad and children - Diarmuid and Tara.
“If I was to give advice to young farmers, I would have to worry about expansion and how sustainable some farms really are.”
“It would be a worry given that price fluctuates so much. There isn’t a fortune in it but there is plenty of work in it."
"It’s only seen as thriving because the other sectors are so poor at the moment” he concluded.
If you are a young farmer and you want to share your story, email - firstname.lastname@example.org - with a short bio.