Growing up on a dairy enterprise in Co. Cavan sowed the seed for 25-year-old Francis Hand.
“My earliest farming memories include helping out on the farm in the evening, probably getting in the way back then more so than anything.” he laughed.
“My brother and I used to sit on buckets in the parlour, watching Da milk,” Francis told Catherina Cunnane - That’s Farming.
He originally chose to study Forestry at University College Dublin (UCD) and completed the first year of the course. It was during this time that the second-generation farmer most interested in animal and crop-related modules.
“I then decided to study Animal and Crop Production because it gave me a broad overview of agriculture in Ireland.”
The Cavan native completed his Professional Work Experience (PWE) module in Ireland and overseas; he worked in a local piggery and on a farm consisting of Charollais sheep.
Francis’ highlight came in the form of working at Emerald Dairies in Missouri, USA with a spring-calving herd of 1,700 cows.
“Cows were outside all-year-round; however, there was a calf shed, two 40-unit herringbone parlours and one 50-unit parlour.”
“Grass was a big focus so I learned a lot about low input, output systems,” he added.
He also gained experience on a 2,000-hectare tillage farm in Great Wilbraham, where his main duties included grain carting and field cultivations.
“This was an area I had little or no knowledge of but this was a great learning experience.”
Francis completed his undergraduate studies in 2017 and is now studying a MSc in Ruminant Nutrition at Harper Adams University.
“The course includes a research project, which has been very enjoyable as we get to focus on an area we have interest in.”
“I have looked at a yeast culture to see if it’s an effective rumen conditioner using the in-vitro method. This was a lab-based project which I found very interesting,” he explained.
Francis does not regret embarking on this journey as it has allowed him to cross paths with students from all corners of the globe. “I have met people from the Netherlands, Germany and even Uruguay. It’s good to hear about agriculture from all parts of the world and see how they do it.”
Francis returns home to Cavan to provide assistance on the family farm whenever an opportunity arises.
“I help out when I can but I haven’t been home in a few months now - I missed calving and the first cut of silage,” he admitted.
The farm - which is currently run by his father and brother - is home to 55 British Friesian-Ayrshire cows - which pass through a 6-unit Fullwood parlour - and a number of beef cattle.
Last year, the herd produced 410 kg milk solids per cow at 4.00% butterfat and 3.4% protein; calving in a compact block is paramount and this year, the herd achieved an 85% 6-week calving rate.
When selecting AI Friesian sires, the Hands focus on longevity, milk solids, fertility and ease of calving; an Aberdeen Angus stock bull is introduced to the pastures to increase calf value.
All Friesian heifers are retained as replacements, while Friesian bulls are sold when they reach three weeks of age. “Some of the beef calves are sold at three weeks or they remain on-farm and are sold as stores.”
“All silage work is carried out using our own machinery, with all silage being baled,” he added.
Francis - who is currently based in Newport, Shropshire - has plans to return to Ireland when he graduates in September, with a view to securing a role in the agricultural sector.
He relishes the idea of establishing his own enterprise and owning his own livestock in the future. “I enjoy the seasonality of farming - there are different jobs to do every day, ranging from animal husbandry to machinery work.”
“I also like talking to different farmers to see how they are getting on,” he concluded.
“Kill weeds when they are small - this rule applies to any problem you encounter in life.”
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