Joseph Hughes may only be 24-years-old, but to say he has experience in agriculture, would be a drastic understatement.
Joseph is a third-generation dairy farmer, with his grandparents having had a dairy operation as well as a keen interest in sheep. He currently helps run his family dairy farm in the garden County and it is here they farm just over 400 acres, 200 of which are rented and the rest owned. They also carry out the occasional contracting services, such as silage and corn harvesting, though just for neighbours and themselves.
Their dairy herd consists of Holstein Friesians, in a 70-30% split. Operations are run mainly by Joseph, his father Joe and his mother Elma, though his brother and sister, Andrew and Helen, also lend a helping hand.
The family-run a winter milking system, with calving in autumn and spring. They team calved approximately 80 cattle, this past Autumn, with the remainder in spring. Last October they have in excess of 300 cows to calve, with 229 for calving this Spring. All heifer calves are kept as replacements for the herd, with some sold on by the family as replacements for other herds. Any bull calves born on the farm are sold at the earliest convenience.
“We sell them (heifers) in local dairy sales…We carry extra heifers and then sell them on,”, he said.
“The bull calves are all sold, bar a couple kept as secondary bulls,” Joseph explained to Kevin.
They operate a paddock to paddock grazing system, with each block divided into 18 equal plots on the home block. Of all the cattle the family currently have, only 230 of them are milked on the grazing platform. This is due to the home block consisting of 48 hectares, meaning the stocking rate is extremely high.
“When we are at 230 cows, which would be for the months of May, June and July and most of August, we would be at a stocking rate on the home farm of 4.8 cows per hectare, which would be extremely high,” he informed Kevin.
“To milk around 230 every Summer, is our aim,”, he continued.
They run with a 16-unit Herringbone parlour with cluster removers. This system means the two-day milking sessions, with herding time included, takes approximately seven hours each day. while they recently installed a new Dairymaster Bulk Tank, capable of holding up to 22,000 litres.
As if a dairy operation was not enough, Joseph decided recently to increase the sheep side of operations. This part of the business is run solely by Joseph and he says he was always drawn to sheep and always had a great interest in them. He got into them firstly in his early teens, as he says they were a cheap and profitable way for him to get farming.
He currently has a flock of just over 170 ewes, of which 40 are pedigree, Suffolk and Jacobs. All forty pedigree ewes have lambed January just gone, with the rest set to commence lambing in March.
He not only holds the interest in agriculture, but also studied the industry as well. He completed a three year, BSE in Agriculture course from Waterford Institute of Technology. Following this, the travel-bug bit Joseph and he took off to the Southern Hemisphere. His first stop was New Zealand and it was here he began relief milking on an industrial size farm, with over 1100 cows. He says grassland management over there was on a different level and says he took a lot of knowledge home with him.
“It would open your eyes as to what can be done in such a simple way,” he stated.
“By making things simple you can be very efficient, with low labour costs…It was a great insight to see.” he added.
This was not to be the end of Joseph’s travels, as following his gig in New Zealand he went to Australia for a period of Nine months in 2017 to drive combines.
“We do a small bit of agricultural work at home…I always wanted to go and do a harvest”, he said.
He stayed in Australia until Christmas, before again boarding a plane, this time heading for Asia for a one-month period. This was again followed by a return to Australia, where he worked on building sites as well as one of the countries, if not world’s, biggest dairy farm outfits.
“It was a complete indoor farm, with Moxy dairy. It’s Australia’s largest dairy farm, with 5,500 cows, milked three times a day, with a herd average of 42 litres per day,” he informed Kevin.
“They cull any cow under 28 litres, they were also calving all year round…There was an outrageous amount of feed for the whole operation” he added.
He stayed on this farm until May of last year, but not before taking his father on a tour around all the farms he had worked on in recent years, not just in Australia but also New Zealand. Joseph admits his father had “never seen anything like it,”.
“In New Zealand we actually went on about ten farm tours a week,” he said.
Joe is a long-standing Johnstown Macra member, since the Macra rally in Cork in 2015, though he admits it wasn’t on the top of his agenda upon his return home. He said he wasn’t given much choice in the matter, with two friends not taking no for an answer. Joseph is glad they pressured him when they did as he now thoroughly enjoys every aspect of his involvement with the organisation.
“A neighbour and a cousin of mine wouldn’t take no for an answer and I had to join Macra there and then…I Had no choice” Joseph joked.
He says it offers farmers a way of meeting others in similar situations to themselves and make friends along the way. Joseph also noted that any trip he has taken with the group thus far, such as the recent farm walks connected to the FBD/Macra Young Farmer of the year event, has only increased his knowledge and provide him with various new tips and tricks. He now wouldn’t trade his involvement for anything.
“It's brilliant…You meet so many people similar to yourself… and there is so much to learn from it too,” he said.
“Kevin Moran’s recent farm walk was a real eye-opener for me” he added.
Joseph says the most challenging aspect of the family farm, is changing the mindset from that to a business one. He says the family hope to continue to focus on the business side of things, with no major plans to increase stock numbers.
The team recently purchased a new automatic calf feeder, Urban Alma Pro due to be installed next week and one of the only ones in the country. This can be operated via a smartphone and will save the family many long hours.
“I think it’s the third one in the country. It’s a very high tech one, I can see if there are calves that need to be fed if I’m away from the farm,” he said.
This season the team have also begun an extensive upgrade project, with 200 topless cubicles to be built. Joseph expects the main brunt of the work to begin by June at the latest.
Why he loves dairy:
If it is not the constant new knowledge learning, it is the freedom involved with the job which attracts Joseph. He gets great satisfaction from not only completing tasks on farm, but also making improvements and watching how they impact things.
He says his father has been the perfect mentor he could ever hope for and noted that he wouldn’t nor the farm, would be where they are today without his help, perseverance and guidance.
Although he had never planned on getting involved with Macra, I think it is fair to say he is a model ambassador for the organisation now. A finalist in Last year’s FBD/Macra Young Farmer of the year awards, Joseph not only has the interest, but a real love for what he does.
Not content with just an impressive dairy outfit, Joe decided to take on the world of sheep as well and you know, he’s not doing too bad at all!