Ciaran O’Shea is a thirty-five-year-old dairy farmer from near Coolnamara, Borris, Co. Carlow.
Ciaran is the fifth farming generation within the O’Shea family and he runs the family dairy enterprise alongside his brother, Seamus, since returning home on a full-time basis three years ago.
“I am 35 years of age and a fifth-generation farmer from Coolnamara, just outside of Borris in Co. Carlow.” Ciaran explained to Kevin of That’sFarming.
“I have been working full-time for the past three years on the family farm run by my brother Seamus.” He continued.
The farm was taken over from Ciaran’s father, who first started milking cows over 55 years ago in 1963. Together, Ciaran and his brother, Seamus, run a 110-strong milking herd of Pedigree Holstein cows, under the Barrowvalley prefix.
“My father started milking cows in 1963 and we now run a 110-cow pedigree Holstein herd under the Barrowvalley prefix.” Ciaran told Kevin.
The family also kept a flock of sheep on their holding many years ago, meaning Ciaran and his brother always had a significant role to play on the farm. His jobs included rearing pet lambs, feeding, moving stock and much more.
“Growing up I was always involved in the farm work.” The Carlow man explained.
“There was always something to do especially as at the time we also had a flock of sheep. The jobs included moving, feeding, fostering lambs, rearing pets, feeding calves, moving stock etc and that gave me a love for the farm and working with livestock.” Ciaran added.
Ciaran’s journey -
The youngest of five children in the O’Shea household, Ciaran was always determined to work within the agricultural industry.
“I always wanted to work in agriculture” Ciaran explained.
As there was only enough work on the home farm for his father and brother, Ciaran knew that following the Leaving Certificate he would be best served to further his education in college. This led to the Carlow man heading to UCD, where he studied Agricultural Science, specialising in Animal Science.
“Being the youngest of five, I knew I would have to work in the Agricultural industry rather than be a full-time farmer as my Father and brother were working on the farm. So, the natural path was to pursue my education.” Said the farmer.
“I studied Agricultural Science in UCD, specialising in Animal Science and to my surprise I got my honours degree. So, my journey from there to today has had many twists and turns” he exclaimed.
Ciaran’s first job outside college and within the industry came in the shape of a role with Minch Sales (Now Boortmalt) and he was responsible for walking the crops and prescribing spray programmes for the Malting barley suppliers in the New Ross, Wexford region. After his maiden season, he moved onto working the weighbridge and intake during harvest season.
“That led to me moving to the Carlow branch to take up the role of administration for the offices there, while also doing some crop walking and the usual harvest intake duties of sampling and quality analysis to decide if the barley qualified for malting or if it was sent for feed.” Ciaran told Kevin of That’sFarming.
“Then the opportunity arose to get into a sector that really appealed to me, Genetics. In November 2008, I took up a position of Breeding Advisor for ABS Ireland covering South Leinster.” He added.
Ciaran’s role saw him selling AI Straws, Teat care products and Silage additives. After one year with ABS, the position of Dairy Product Specialist soon became available and the farmer jumped at the chance to take the role.
“I was lucky enough to be deemed a suitable candidate for the job.” Ciaran said.
“It was a different direction again. From selling bulls to selecting the bulls that we should be bringing into the country that would best meet our customers’ needs and desires.” He adds.
The role expanded for Ciaran year on year and he soon became very involved in the development of the ABS Ireland Grassland Genetics programme, where he was working with Andrew Rutter, the European Breeding manager for ABS/Genus. His role had him sourcing high-ranking grassland bulls, fit for use in world markets.
“We were fortunate enough to purchase some exceptional bulls that we were able meet these demands.” The Carlow man explained.
“Semen from these bulls was shipped to numerous countries including, UK and mainland Europe, Chile, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.”
A change was to come in August of 2015, however, as the company decided a new approach to their business operations was needed. This led to a redundancy for the team. Ciaran described the redundancy as a “difficult situation to go through”, but he soon took on a role with another company.
The Move back to the farm -
The decision to move back to the family farm was not one taken lightly. Ciaran was working in a new role when his wife, Mary, suffered a deterioration in her health. Mary suffers from Fibromyalgia and was hospitalised at this time for a period of five months, causing a huge strain on the family.
The decision was then made by Ciaran to take a step back from work until Mary made her return home from Hospital.
“As you can imagine holding down a job travelling the length and breadth of the country was not really sustainable, so I took the very difficult decision to step back from work until my wife got home from hospital and we got everything we needed for her care set up before I went back to the work force.” He said.
“When things improved and Mary came home from hospital, I looked at getting back to work.” He added.
This is when the official decision was made for Ciaran to return home to the family farm in Carlow, to help his brother Seamus run operations.
“At home on the farm, the workload was getting heavier and my father was getting on in years, so it was decided I would come home and work for Seamus on the farm”
This suited Ciaran as it offered him more flexibility to care for his wife, Mary.
The Farm -
As mentioned, Ciaran now runs a milking herd of 110 Pedigree Holstein cows alongside his brother Seamus.
The cows are split between Autumn and Spring calving (40:60) and the family supply all of their milk to Glanbia. Cows are milked in a 12-unit DeLaval herringbone parlour. The farm in Co. Carlow, Ciaran admits, is fragmented. The home farm is kept as the grazing platform for the milking herd, with young stock reared on an outfarm, where silage and maize is also grown.
“Cows normally get to grass here in Mid/late February, but for the past week we have had them out by day due to the unprecedented growth we had over the warm winter.” Said the farmer.
“We buffer feed the cows until April and cows then remain at grass until November. ICH and spring maiden heifers are wintered on an outfarm and the autumn maiden heifers are wintered at home for breeding in January.”
The family also fatten any cull cows on the outfarm and usually grow just over 20-acres of maize.
“We also winter/fatten our cull cows on an outfarm.” The farmer noted.
“We grow 20+ acres of maize to feed the cows through the winter. We may look at sowing a bit more as a safeguard for extended winters like winter 17/spring18.” He added.
Calving for the Autumn-calving portion of the herd usually commences at the end of September, running up until the end of November. The Spring-calving portion of the herd begin calving around the 10th of January, finishing up in April.
“We are currently in the middle of what is our busiest spell of calving, but so far so good we have had very little complications.” Said the Carlow native.
“The heifers have calved trouble free and so far, with 100% heifer calves due to sexed semen. Our heifer count is standing at 35 at the moment, all AI bred, but that is sure to change shortly as there are 4, due to sexed semen, in the next week along with whatever the cows add to it.” He adds.
Calves are given colostrum at birth and are kept with their mother for a 24-36-hour period. Then they are removed to individual pens for a few days to build them up strong enough for grouping.
“They then go to group housing in groups of 4 until they are approximately 3 weeks old.” Ciaran said to Kevin.
“At this point, they move to a larger shed still referred to as the sheep shed, where they are housed in groups of 6 until weaning. Following weaning they are moved to large group housing.”
Cows are all housed through the winter and fed a TMR of Straw, Silage, maize, beet and concentrates.
“So far this year body condition score has been very good and thankfully cows are cycling very quickly after calving.” Ciaran stated.
Breeding on the Carlow farm differs from other dairy enterprises, in that the O’Shea family do not select bulls based on Irish EBI figures. Instead, they use genetics from the UK, America and Canada, with Ciaran studying proofs on the regular.
“I study the proofs from these countries religiously. If I find a bull I like in America, I will look up how his proof matches up in the UK PLI system, if they are consistent and hit my target criteria, I then look him up on his Irish figures just to see where they stand on protein %.”
“If it is not positive, he will not be used.”
The criteria sought by Ciaran and the family is a moderate stature, positive chest width, body depth, rump width and good rump angle,”
Ciaran says this list ensures that cows have the capacity to produce milk efficiently, whilst also looking after their BCS.
“In health terms, fertility has to be >6 Fertility Index UK and >2 Daughter Pregnancy Rate(DPR) US, negative SCC, positive milk speed and temperament.” Said Ciaran.
“In production terms, high protein % is key, must be over +0.06% UK and +0.08% in US with >200Kgs milk UK +200Lbs US. It is not simple criteria, but I enjoy the challenge of finding the bulls that meet them.”
Future of the farm -
In terms of the farm and milking cow numbers, the family are currently at their limit. Unless land becomes available in the locality in the near future, cow numbers are unlikely to change, Ciaran admits.
“Expansion will have to be done through increasing output per cow.” The farmer said.
“The dairy industry at the minute is driven by renting land and driving numbers. This is not, in my opinion, a sustainable method of farming in the long term due to so many variables, land availability/price, labour availability, current and future environmental restrictions. That is why we will continue to maximise our output from the platform and numbers we have without adding unnecessary risk to the business.” he added.
There will, however, be some adjustments made around the yard over the course of 2019, in a bid to simply the system in place and thus, reduce workload.
Why Ag -
For Ciaran, there are many reasons behind is love for what he does. But in reality, it is a bug that has bitten him since a very young age. He admits to holding a strong passion for livestock.
“I have always loved farming.” Ciaran told Kevin.
“From my early days of going out to the fields with my dad to round up the newborn lambs and ewes, to the current day of walking through the cows and youngstock, the love for livestock has always been there.” He admitted.
Having himself spent many years working off-farm, Ciaran says nothing compares to the experience of farming full-time.
“Having had the opportunity to work in the agricultural industry for different companies, I can safely say nothing compares to farming.” He said.
He explains that to him, farming is more of a stress reliever than anything and admits he would happily work with animals over people any day of the week.
“I think working with animals is an awful lot easier and a lot less stressful than working with people.” Ciaran concluded.
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