Name: Darragh Callanan
Education: BA Nui Galway.
Performance: Averaging 33litres, 3.34 protein, BF 3.7, SCC AVG 59. 580kgs milk solids 2017, 2088kgs of milk solids per hectare.
When Darragh Callanan began his journey post his secondary education, he set off with the intentions of becoming a secondary school teacher, though sometimes life has other plans!
Darragh now runs his family dairy enterprise in a farm partnership with his father, John, near Ardrahan in the Tribesmen county. On the verge of celebrating his 30th birthday, Darragh could not be happier with his choice, to give up on a teaching career and return home to the area he was born and raised in.
Darragh, a second-generation dairy farmer, and his father John share the duties of the farm. Together they milk 170 cows in a 14-unit Boumatic Double-up parlour, which was installed five years ago and they supply their milk to Aurivo.
“I am in a farm partnership with my father John…We installed the parlour about five years ago and any issues we have had with it have been solved over the phone”, Darragh explained.
“We used to milk 140 cows in a 6-unit parlour…That was painful and torture! We said when we were putting in the new one, that we would never be changing it again, so we went for the Rolls Royce”, Darragh said.
“The time we saved after we fitted the parlour, is now spent Zerograzing.”, he said.
The way the Zerograzing system is worked, which was first introduced four years ago, is that half of the cows are housed inside fulltime, while the other half are housed outside. Cows are grazed in paddocks in 36-hour intervals, with grass measured regularly.
The family dairy operation was first set up by John, back in the late 70’s/early 80’s. A new entrant to the sector, John began by milking all cows by hand, before the installation of the, now retired, 6-unit parlour. The farm is divided into two main blocks, John’s home farm and the farm of Darragh’s mother, with milking carried out throughout the winter in an Autumn calving system.
“Over half of all the land we farm is rented. We have 100-acres owned and the rest is rented,”, he said.
“We are milking throughout the winter. We are autumn calving, but it is very variable, we are still actually calving now…We calf about 20 to 25 or thereabouts every often. That is around the figure we need to be at, to meet our liquid quota. We need 2,000 litres a day and with the late calvers in the spring and Autumn, they have that covered”, he added.
The enterprise is run on 95hectares in total, which Darragh admits is extremely fragmented and can prove challenging.
“Our biggest grazing block is 23ha, but it goes from that to down to 0.7 of a hectare.”, he said.
This is part of the reason why the father and son duo recently made the transition to full-time Zerograzing, something Darragh says has enabled them to improve the farm’s efficiency and helped them reach their full potential, without overstocking.
“We are Zerograzing full-time…Our land is massively fragmented, so we had no choice really but to Zerograze,”, he explained.
“We are milking around 170, this year and last, and the grazing platform is about 22hectares. There is no way that we could have that many cows on that amount of ground, without Zerograzing,”, he said.
The family, as mentioned, have a full Pedigree Holstein herd, with all bull calves born sold off the farm. Approximately 40 heifer calves are also chosen every year, to be kept as replacements, with the rest sold off. The milking herd is currently on approx. 5.5kgs of 14% nuts, averaging at 1.8tonnes of meal per head for 2017.
Up until recently, a Stock Angus bull was used on the farm, though Darragh says they recently purchased a Parthenaise stock bull from a neighbour, with the rest carried out by AI, completed by Darragh and his father. He also says they have begun experimenting with Belgian Blue genetics, with the hopes of producing fleshier, more profitable bull calves.
Journey into Dairy:
Although now firmly committed to the industry, it was never Darragh’s original intention to get into the dairy sector.
Though he admits to always harbouring an interest in agriculture and the family farm, the long summer holidays were what attracted him to a career as a teacher. This led to his taking the plunge and studying a Bachelor of Arts degree in Nui Galway, which he subsequently completed.
“I went to college with the intentions of becoming a teacher. I did an arts degree in Maths and information technology.”, he said.
Darragh was all set to begin his journey into teaching when he just missed out on the H-Dip following his graduation. This led to a year spent working, followed by a trip to Australia for a six-month period, whilst he waited to re-apply for the following year.
“I actually missed out on the H-Dip that year. So, I said I would aim to get in the following year in my final year…I worked for the year and then went out to Australia for six months and by then my mind was completely changed. I decided I wasn’t going back to college”, he noted.
Interestingly, all it took to persuade Darragh to return home to farm, was a phone call from his father, requesting some help at home and from here, as they say, the rest is history.
“I stayed out there until my father rang me to tell me to come back and go milking cows,”, he added.
The chairman of his local Ardrahan IFA, Darragh says he never fully ruled out a return to farming.
“I had hoped that I could have been farming and teaching full-time as well. But from what I have seen of it now, it seems fairly stressful. It isn’t viable”, he stated.
A return in the coming years to the teaching front is not on the agenda for Darragh, as he is happy enough where he is.
“I’m farming and that’s it now”, he said.
There are no major plans currently to up milking numbers. The farming duo has already expanded numbers from 96 in 2007, to the 170 they now milk on the daily. This increase was introduced gradually, to not put undue pressure on the farm.
“I don’t think we will go up in numbers …Last year we were stocked on the grazing platforms ‘all-in’ at 3.6. For our herd I thought this was a bit high, so we are down to 3.3 this year now as we got an extra bit of ground. I think we will hold it there for now,”, Darragh said.
As mentioned earlier, the farm is currently changing their breeding perspective for the coming year.
“We are using ‘aaa weeks’ at the moment. We are strongly using that, but we are also trying to mix in genomics and improve the EBI where we can. My main aim on the breeding front is to improve fertility and protein levels”, Darragh explained.
“The range of bulls we are using is from an EBI of 30 up to EBI of 260… I am trying to do a bit of both. I am following ‘aaa’ numbers but I am trying to bring EBI in it when I can,”, he added.
Darragh also hopes to eventually get his girlfriend Ailish into the parlour, something he has been trying for many years now, though admits will happen sooner than later.
“She (Ailish) hasn’t milked a cow yet, but she does take part in the farm walks…The first night I actually met her, she said she would love to milk a cow, she hasn’t done it yet though”, he laughed.
The farm has also introduced the profit monitor to their system, which enables them to precisely record the profit margin lines.
“Our average cost on the profit monitor for the past few years has been 22cents per litre. If you include payments and what myself and my father need as wages, the overall business needs to be making 32cents per litre, which it is”, Darragh said.
Darragh also hopes to gradually get the calving interval down from the current 394 days to 380 days and says then he will be satisfied, while he aims to improve milk solids eventually from 580kgs to 650kgs.
Why he loves what he does:
For a man who never fully intended on getting into the industry, there are a lot of contributing factors to his love for the dairy industry.
Not only does he get immense satisfaction from his hard work, but he also feels a sense of pride in keeping the family enterprise running smoothly and efficiently.
“Farming has always been in my head, from very young. It was always the number one thing I wanted to do,”, he said.
He noted that although it can be “intense and hard work”, especially after the back of the current tough Spring season, but says it is hard to beat being your own boss
“You rarely look at the time to see when its time to finish up, whereas anytime I was in another job you were always looking at the clock”, he noted.
“It’s a mixture of a lot of things, such as pride and a love for what you do…You are your own boss too…No matter how bad it gets, and it has got bad at times with bad milk prices and poor weather, but all you need is one sunny day with the cows out lying in the field and that makes you feel a lot better,”, he concluded.