Sunday Book Club: The Secret Life of Cows


On this month’s Sunday Book Club, we profile the classic that is ‘The Secret Life of Cows’.

Sunday Book Club: The Secret Life of Cows

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  • 1 year ago

On this month’s Sunday Book Club, we profile the classic that is ‘The Secret Life of Cows’.

The self-confessed blogger and farming enthusiast, now farms a herd of 47 cows on his farm, Rathravane Dairy Farm, near Ballydehob Co. Cork. Here he milks 47 crossbred jersey cows twice daily and he loves every minute of it.

Beginnings:
Patrick always had a keen interest in agriculture growing up, an interest which steadily developed through the years. He was born and raised on the family farm, helping his father at every opportunity.

Patrick took over from his father upon completing his education and receiving his green cert from Clonakilty Ag college and also spent 2 months on a farm in New Zealand as part of his placement from college. As well as that he also spent a further 6 months working on a farm in Terelton, Macroom Co. Cork, He learned a lot on placement and it really helped develop his skills as a farmer. Now Patrick runs the family farm, which is 105 acres- in total out of this there is 47 grazable acres.

“My father never pushed me into farming, it was a gradual thing, it was my own decision...When I was 18 or 19 I really focused myself and set out a plan and said this is the way I want to go”.

He milks his herd twice a day in his 8 unit, herringbone parlour. It is a straightforward New Zealand design, with no feeders, put up by his father back in 1999. Cows calf on the farm in early January and from then they are put to grass almost straight away.

Grassland Management:
Patrick strongly believes in the importance of grassland management and says it is vital to the successful running of his farm.

“I’ve been grass measuring the last couple of years.... and learnt the skill Through my Teagasc advisor.”, said Patrick.

“Grass is key going forward in the dairy industry...For Ireland it’s a real natural resource to help Irish farmers produce milk as cheaply as possible”, he stressed.

He says his main aim on the farm is to Utilise the grass grown on the farm and to increase tonnes of grass grown each year and also reducing variable costs on the farm Eg. Meal and fertiliser.

His emphasis on grass, means Patrick takes a grass walk on his farm on a weekly basis. This involves a walk through the grazing block, measuring the grass as he goes.

“I go out once a week and I measure how much grass is in each paddock. I use the agri-net programme on the computer and I put each grass cover from each paddock into that”, he said.

This shows him the grass wedge or progress in grass growth. This enables Patrick to plan into the near future and helps him decide on his upcoming feed needs and budget.

“If there’s too much grass on the farm I can take out surplus grass as silage...It helps me make the right decisions when it comes to grass”, he said.

“My opinion is if you are not measuring and walking the farm then you are blind and grass can go ahead of you or you can go tight”, he stressed.

“Then you’ll have to bring in supplements and that’s a cost in itself”, he adds.

“Grass is a key is producing milk... producing milk from Grass alone is one of my targets going forward and as little meal as possible”, he stated.

This means Patrick only buffer feeds when required, such as when a cow is in need of minerals after calving. He tries to use the grass budget as much as possible, so that he minimizes any feed costs for the year. If he has enough grass then meals are taken out from July onwards and then fed when required.

“For me it’s about where can I cut costs next and cutting down my meal bill would be one for them” he said.

Future:
With regards the future, Patrick has no immediate plans to increase his stocking rate. Where his farm is situated at the moment he doesn’t have the space to increase numbers, though he still intends to improve efficiency on the farm and maximise the full potential of his herd. He does also plan to reseed a percentage of the farm every year going forward, which will eventually enable him to increase his numbers on a small scale.

“Here I’m kind of tight for land...Through reseeding over the next couple of years, I would be hoping to bring the herd up to 60 cows in the next 6 years”, he says.

He sees a great future in the dairy industry with great opportunities for young farmers, Patrick also having a keen interest in the science behind farming and always looking for ways to up skill himself and his farm.

Challenges:
Rural isolation was the main challenge facing Patrick upon his return home, he was finding that going out locally he was meeting the same people every weekend and it was hard to meet new people . Though he says this changed when he joined Macra.

“Macra na Feirme has been life changing for me”, he said.

“There are challenges ahead and it’s not an industry to get into lightly, but I love it”, he states.

“farming challenges me and there is so much innovation coming into agriculture in the next few years”, he said.

Upon first returning home to the farm he said he did face a few hurdles on his way.

“Everyone makes mistakes coming into the industry...I probably wish I went into grass budgeting that bit earlier” he said.

Overall he said he felt like he was dropped in the deep end, when it came to managing the farm accounts and the running of the business side of the farm etc.

“At the time I didn’t have those skills. But I think it’s different now...there’s more help there for young farmers”, he said.

Macra:
Patrick gained confidence through Macra and the skills net programmes helped him develop as a young farmer which he feels not only helped him immensely but has also helped other young farmers. Patrick says, macra has been vital in his own personnal development over the past 13 years.

“My parents were past members of Macra..I joined Caheragh macra club in 2006 and I have had amazing opportunities through macra”, he said.

This led Patrick to take on roles in macra as County secretary for Carbery as well as been National Council rep for Carbery and was vice chair of the Ag affairs committee of macra. Patrick also had the honour of receiving a national leadership award last year from macra he said receiving this was the highlight of his life to date.

“Macra is all about personal development of its members. I gained so much confidence through Macra and developed so many skills which have helped me on my dairy farm”, he said.

“I couldn’t speak highly enough about Macra”, he said.

Advice:
Patrick said he has one main regret in his relatively short agricultural career. He wishes he took more time out to explore other areas and farms, before his return home to take over the family farm.

“I wish I took more time out and went working outside my own farm on other farms, whether that was in Ireland or New Zealand”, Patrick said.

“Before they decide to go back to their home farm, get out there and get that bit of experience. Go to other farms and see how it’s done. Some of the top farmers within the EU are Irish, especially in the dairy industry”, he said.

“Upskill yourself as much as possible...the more skills you have the better” he reiterated.

Patrick loves what he does as he loves the freedom of being his own boss, not to mention his love for working with animals. Not only that Patrick gets a great sense of satisfaction from watching his animals develop.

Although not farming massive numbers, Patrick has his head firmly screwed on with a real thirst for knowledge. Running his farm efficiently is a priority, as is the health and welfare of his beloved animals.

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