Fintan McSweeney is a thirty-four-year-old farmer from Donoughmore, Co. Cork. Husband to Christina, Fintan runs a dairy farm in partnership with his older brother Brian and parents - Finbarr and Breeda.
Fintan completed an Advanced Diploma in Dairy Herd Management in Clonakilty Agricultural College before returning to the family farm.
On a spring-calving, grass-based system, the family calved down 250 cows between them this year.
Fintan and his family have a slightly different farm configuration to most dairy farms, as Fintan just last year purchased a 20-unit Dairymaster herringbone parlour, that sits in the yard along with a second 12-unit parlour that is currently under Brian’s management.
Holstein Friesians are the cow of choice for the McSweeneys. “It’s a dual-purpose animal that has a good value on the calf and I can get a good cull-cow as well as producing good milk solids,” said Fintan.
“I have a cow that’s producing 550 Kilos of milk solids from a concentrate input of 1.2 tonnes per cow,” he added.
The McSweeney’s are currently yielding 3.54% protein and 4.05% butterfat from 30.5-litres of milk volume.The Cork-based farmers do three weeks of AI and a high-EBI stock bull dominates the pastures for a twelve-week period.
They source the bulls from the same farmer each year as they know that the stock bulls are consistently favourable and they have established a trust with the farmer.
Fintan always knew that he wanted to be a farmer from a young age. He has other brothers and sisters who have taken their own paths and he knows that they are happy with their choices.His eldest brother John runs a successful construction business.
The close-knit family are every bit a joint enterprise and will meet up to discuss and agree on decisions before any arrangement is taken forward.His sixteen-year-old nephew - Darragh - provides assistance whenever he can.
As with every farming year, our weather can be both unpredictable and challenging. There was very little grass growth in the spring with a surge of grass growth in May and June while many farms struck with drought in July.
“Last year was so challenging that if you got through it at all, you’ll get through any year,” said Fintan on reflection of the challenges that last year’s weather brought.
“Of the many years that I’ve been farming, I learned so much last year,” he added.
The lessons that Fintan learned will see him in good stead for the future as he clarified: “Having stocks of silage is vital and not being afraid to feed extra meal because you will get a response from the cow.”
According to Fintan “Every extra kilo we gave to the cows, we got an extra kilo back out of her, so it balances out. One was covering the other,” smiled the farmer, who increased his feed from 1.2 tonnes last year to 1.8.
Since 2012, the McSweeneys have doubled their cow numbers and have also doubled their milk output since 2014. “Our plan is to grow more grass and improve our milk solids,” said the thirty-four-year-old.
Fintan is on a regional and general committee with Dairygold. They meet monthly and discuss problems facing some of their members. Expansion plans and future economics of the co-op are also discussed. “I’m disappointed that I don’t see enough young people through the co-op,” said Fintan - who is a big believer in its ethos.
“It’s vital to have young people coming through the system. I think that it’s very important for everybody getting up every day to go milking that they get involved and have their say in the running of their co-op, he added.
It’s Fintan’s belief that teamwork is the route to success, and the ability to see everyone’s point of view. Among the advice, he recommends listening to your parents: “I’ve found that my father and mother Breeda have given great advice; they’ve been a great help and it’s been our success” he said.
“Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, as long as you learn from them” insists Fintan, and become a member of Macra, get involved in co-ops and learn from those experiences” he concluded.