As part of That’sFarming’s ‘Young Farmer’ series, Kevin speaks to Waterford dairy farmer and this year's FBD/Macra Young dairy farmer of the year, Mr. Eamonn Keevers.
Age - 25
Farm - Milking 108 spring calving herd in partnership with parents on 30ha grazing block.
Location - Clashmore, Co. Waterford.
Performance - 450kgs Milk solids on 350kgs meal in 2017. 5.34% Butterfat, 4.54% Protein, 15litres per cow on 5kgs on meal.
Born in 1993, for 25-year-old Eamonn Keevers the dream to become a full-time farmer was one developed during his first few years of life.
“My parents were always very positive about farming,” Eamonn noted.
For Eamonn has been involved on the Keevers family dairy farm for as long as he can remember, a farm which has been in the family for what is now four generations. Together with his parents, Tom and Margaret, Eamonn milks a herd of 108 cows in a spring-calving system in his homeland of Clashmore, Co. Waterford.
“I grew up on the farm and I was always only a stones throw away from the milking parlour.” Eamonn said.
“I am the fourth generation, my great-grandfather married into it (the farm).” The young farmer added.
They run their enterprise on a 30-hectare grazing platform, with cows all “black and whites” or consisting of mainly Holstein and some Friesian genetics. Their milking operation is carried out in the family’s 12-unit GEA Westfalia parlour.
“We are milking 108 cows in a Spring calving system. They are black and white cows, we haven’t gone down the crossbred route just yet.” Eamonn informed Kevin of That’sFarming.
“We had a full pedigree herd (Holstein) here four or five years ago. We have gone away from the Pedigree side of it now and just choose the best EBI black and white bulls.”
The farming trio have now been working alongside one another for what will be three years next Spring, though Eamonn first gained some outside experience of the world prior to his return home.
Life Experiences -
Upon the completion of his secondary education, Eamonn decided to pursue his passion for agriculture further and took on the two-year Dairy Herd Management course in Kildalton Agricultural College.
“I did the two years in Kildalton, dairy herd management.” Said Eamonn.
This led to the Waterford native carrying out work placement abroad on the South Island in New Zealand, where he helped run a dairy herd of 650-cattle. This was, Eamonn admits, the experience of a lifetime and something he is glad to have undertaken.
“I went to New Zealand through that as well…It was a 650-cow dairy farm on the South Island, down near Ashburton.” The Dairy farmer told That’sFarming.
Following his escapades abroad, Eamonn returned home though he was not to return home to the family farm just yet. Instead, the young farmer decided to further his agricultural education and undertook a Prof. Diploma in Dairy Farm Management with Teagasc Moorepark. This he completed in two twelve-month periods, before he eventually returned home to the family farm, with his newly found knowledge in toe, in 2016. This is when the 25-year-old entered into an official farm partnership with his parents.
“I went on then and did the Diploma in Dairy herd management. I did two, twelve-month periods of an ‘apprenticeship’ down in Co. Waterford.” Eamonn stated.
“That was brilliant, and it was just the next step after Kildalton. I wasn’t really ready to go home…I finished that course in 2016 so I came home then.” he added.
The system in place by the Keever family is all focused on achieving the maximum potential from their grass.
Last year saw the family achieve 12tonnes of Dry Matter/hectare from their efforts, with grass measuring and budgeting carried out regularly. This year, due to the weather extremities, Eamonn expects their total to be around the 9tonne DM/ha mark. Cows are grazed in a paddock to paddock system on the family’s 30hectare block and at a stocking rate of 3.5.
“We are at our limit now. But the target would be to grow more grass.” The Waterford man said.
“This year with the drought, we are looking at around 9 or 9.5 tonnes, a big drop.”
Breeding on the farm this year was carried out in a nine-week period, with six weeks of intensive A.I. to top performing EBI bulls (Holstein and Friesian) and three weeks of mopping up with an Angus stock bull.
“We do six weeks of A.I. and we have an Angus bull sweeping up afterwards.” Eamonn explained.
“In terms of the EBI, we look at maintenance figures.” He noted.
Calving generally commences on the farm around the first week of February, with all bull calves and calves sired by the Angus stock bull sold to regular repeat farmer customers, who buy directly from the yard.
“The bull calves are gone by two weeks old. Then anything off the stock bull would be gone as well.” Eamonn stated.
Replacement-wise, the family tend to keep approximately 40 heifers every year, double the farm’s requirement.
“We keep about forty every year, which is double what we need.” Eamonn said.
“We rear them then and sell them as in-calf heifers…We don’t really need them all”
The team of three also draw on the help of some Kildalton students, during the SPring calving season.
"We have been very lucky over the years to have gotten excellent students from Kildalton to help us with calving in the spring." Eamonn said.
Other ventures -
As well as running the family farm side-by-side with his parents, Eamonn also works on a part-time basis helping out on another farm.
“I work part-time as well, so I do about twenty hours a week on another farm.” Eamonn told Kevin.
If that were not enough, the Clashmore native is also a long-standing member of his local Kinsalebeg Macra club and was chosen as Waterford’s representative for the Mr. Personality contest 2018. Eamonn’s efforts do not stop there either, as the young farmer also holds the role of Young farmer county secretary for Waterford County Macra.
“I am the young farmer secretary with the County Macra.” Eamonn said.
Because of these efforts and the improvements made on the farm by Eamonn and his family since his return home in 2016, Eamonn was named the FBD/Macra Young Dairy Farmer of the Year for 2018.
Future Aspirations -
The Keever family, Eamonn admits, are currently happy with the size of their herd, as they are currently at their maximum stocking rate. He noted that there won’t be any facility upgrades on the horizon either, with the current facilities more than adequate.
The main focus for Eamonn and the Keever family is improvement, improvement of the farm in general, the herd’s performance and the improvement of grass yields. Another aim for Eamonn is to improve the milk solids achieved by the herd, on the back of obtaining 450kgs of solids in 2017.
“Growing more grass and improving milk solids…And develop myself further then I suppose.” Said Eamonn when asked of his top aims for the coming years.
“They were doing 450kgs of solids last year on 350kgs of meal” Eamonn adds.
Eamonn is also apart of a discussion group, which has set some ambitious targets for its members to achieve.
“We are in a discussion group now…Our project for the year is to weigh all of our cows…For every kg the cow weighs, we have to match it with a Kg of milk solids.” Eamonn explained.
“Our cows weighed 600kgs this year, so they have a good bit to go.” He continued.
The family have also recently begun genomics testing their heifers this year, something Eamonn hopes will help improve the farm’s overall profitability.
“We started genomics testing this year…just to keep an eye on the maintenance figures.” Eamon told Kevin of That’sFarming.
The family will not, however, be returning to their Pedigree past and Eamonn admits they will likely push further towards the crossbred route.
“If anything, we will probably go the crossbred route, but to be honest, we are happy with how we are doing at the moment.” Eamonn said.
Why Dairy -
Living his dream, Eamonn admits the office life is simply not for him and one of the reasons he loves working within the dairy industry.
“I wouldn’t be a fan of paperwork really.” Eamonn joked.
He also credits the satisfaction gained in watching the fruits of his hard work in the shape of replacements entering their milking herd as another contributory factor.
“One thing I love is breeding our own stock and getting them into the milking parlour and improving each year.” Eamonn admitted.
Always looking to improve and never one to rest on his laurels, Eamonn has already helped improve the family farm massively since his return home two years ago and no doubt the 2018 FBD/Macra Dairy Farmer of the year will continue to contribute greatly to the family achieving further success in the coming years.
Picture Credit - Macra na Feirme.
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