John Keane is a beef and dairy farmer from Errol, Co. Laois, where he runs a farm in partnership with his father Martin. He is also the Agricultural Affairs Chairperson for Macra Na Feirme, a position he has held for the past 14 months.
The Laois man was born with farming in his veins as his father was milking approximately 60 cows when John was a child, but over time, that number has almost doubled and they now milk 110 cows.
“From the age of about 10, you couldn’t keep me inside,” John told Marcella Connolly - That's Farming.
Unlike many who go straight into farming after school, John first decided to complete a degree in Dairy Business from UCD. The course was only in its second year at the university and after a chat with a friend who was also doing the same program, John felt that it was a perfect fit.
As a part of that degree, students completed a six-month placement on a farmNew Zealand. “That was a big part of the draw to that course, said John.
“It was somewhere I have always wanted to see and I wanted to experience how agriculture works over there”.
The 27-year-old did gain valuable skills and knowledge during his time away and came back knowing the importance of cost control and by keeping costs low, it can protect a dairy farm against market volatility.
Grazing management and genetics were two other areas that John gained first-hand knowledge. After gaining his degree, he travelled back to the same farm in New Zealand to work for a further year.
The farm where he was working had one of the top 15 herds in the county on breeding worth, which is the equivalent to the Irish EBI scale. “I could see where their cow was 520kg and that cow produced 540kg of milk solids every year,” he said.
At home, the farmland is quite fragmented and John is happy with his herd numbers as the grazing platform is at capacity.
The Keanes operate a 12-unit herringbone DeLaval parlour and the cows are on an 18-day grazing rotation; the platform is stocked at 4 cows/ha. His herd is made up of British Friesian crossed with Holstein.
Last year, the dairy output saw 485kg in milk solids of 1.5 tonnes of concentrate; the protein was 3.65% and a butterfat output of 4.3%.
“Our percentages could be a bit higher, but our grassland management is leaving a bit of room for improvement, so I think that if we concentrate on that, everything else will improve also,” explained John, who now measures his grass several times a week.
Before breeding season starts, John AIs forty or fifty cows to easy-calving Limousin or Hereford sires. The Friesian bull calves will then be sold at two months of age.
The farmers have a 10-week breeding programme where AI is implemented for six weeks and an Angus stock bull then runs with the cows for four weeks.
The young farmer likes working on the dairy enterprise as he finds waking up in the morning and quietly going about the milking to be very relaxing. “It’s calm, it’s very quiet and you’re on your own,” said John, “It gives you time to think”.
He also enjoys working with the cattle, as they are quieter progeny from the dairy herd and he feels a sense of contentment when he can see the herd gaining weight, “It’s a good feeling when the animals are thriving and growing” he surmised.
Macra na Feirme
His position as Agricultural Affairs Chair in Macra Na Feirme is one that he thoroughly enjoys. It’s a central committee within Macra that is made up of representatives from all over the country.
Policies are designed and agricultural matters are discussed with young farmers who take that information back to individual clubs countrywide.
The concerns of young farming members are then brought back to the committee, who make submissions to the government on topics such as the Mercosur trade deal or environmental policies.
“It’s a huge information centre and a great place for learning,” said John, “as you get more exposure to farmers around the country you realise that there are more complications than your own and it’s enlightening”.
John plans to keep the home farm running at full capacity and will continue to do so unless an opportunity arises to acquire more land and expand the herd, however, right now the farm is running just as he likes it.
If you are a young farmer and would like to share your story, email - firstname.lastname@example.org - with a short bio.