This week’s featured young farmer is married, father of two, Jamie Kealy, a dairy farmer from near Tullow in Co. Carlow.
Farm - New entrant to dairy in 2014. Farming 67ha and milking 105 cows in Co. Carlow.
Parlour - 12-unit Boumatic Gascoigne parlour.
Jamie Kealy, unlike most featured farmers on this series, is a first-generation dairy farmer.
He made the switch as recently as 2014 when he and his wife, Lorraine, decided to explore other avenues at increasing the productivity of their land.
Surprisingly farming has never been in the history of the Kealy’s, meaning Jamie is a real pioneer within the family.
“We always just had a love of farming,”, Jamie explained.
It all began approximately 15 years ago when the family began their farming career finishing beef cattle and not dairy.
“In 2003 we bought a piece of land of our own and started farming on that. We had a small beef enterprise, finishing heifers for the factory,”, Jamie added.
In the years that followed the family gradually began building up their Suckler herd size, consisting of three-quarter bred Limousine cows.
“We built that up to about 28 cows in 2012,”, he said.
This is when the opportunity to lease a neighbouring farm came about, something snapped up by the family following some careful planning and research. This presented them the difficulty of trying to successfully plan a vibrant Suckler beef enterprise and this is when the decision was made to make the transition into dairying.
“A local farmer who knew I was into farming, offered us his land for rent…So we sat down then and worked out the figures on it, thinking we could maybe grow to 100 Suckler cows and sell any progeny at twelve months,”, he said.
“That is what we were doing with our 28 Sucklers…But we worked out the figures on it and with 100 cows and we couldn’t get it to add up…We just couldn’t justify having such a big Suckler herd.”, Jamie explained.
This led to Jamie and his wife Lorraine making the decision to become new entrants into the dairy sector in 2014.
“Neither of us are from a farming background…None of us had any experience in dairy at all.”, he said.
The pair, with the help of Teagasc, came up with a plan of action, implementing a six-year strategy.
“Teagasc helped, but the best move we ever made was doing the plan ourselves, as we understood the plan and how everything was going to go as well,”, he advised.
The day-to-day management of the farm is carried out by Jamie himself, though that is not to say Lorraine doesn’t have her fair share of jobs. For example, during calving season in Spring, Lorraine is tasked with looking after the replacement heifer calves on the home block.
All bull calves born on the farm are sold at the earliest convenience, meaning the farming duo made the complete transition from beef to dairy. The farm began with 64 heifers in total, all sourced from one nearby farm. Milking first began in January 2014, while today they milk 105 cows in total. As mentioned they operate a spring calving system, with their consisting of mainly Holstein Friesians.
“The heifers in their first year averaged around 440kgs of milk solids, which is very good for heifers. We have grown that year-on-year and last year we produced 565kgs of milk solids.”, Jamie noted.
“Last year the cows milked approximately 666-litres per cow…It is mainly a British Friesian herd, with a small bit of Jersey through it. We couldn’t call it a crossbred herd though, it is mainly a black and white herd,”, he added.
The farm is based primarily on grass production and Jamie admits they are lucky to be farming an area with such good grass growing abilities. In fact, the farm fed 750kgs of meal per cow last year, something Jamie is pleased with, but also looking to improve upon.
“We are very lucky we are on a very dry farm…it is well capable of growing grass and a lot of our production is coming from grass…Last year we grew 16-tonnes of grass. There is a big focus on grass on the farm and we measure grass on a weekly basis,”, he said.
“Last year we fed around 750kgs of meal per head…I was happy with that level of production, but I would be much happier if I got it back to 650kgs of meal per cow,”, he added.
Milking begins every year on the farm at the start of February, while the aim is to have the herd dry by December 10th. Cows are grazed on a paddock-to-paddock system in a 19-day rotation. Their Grazing platform consist of 37 hectares, while they hold 67 hectares overall, the majority of which is rented on a long-term lease.
“About 12 hectares of it is owned and the rest is on a long-term, 15-year lease,”, Jamie explained to ThatsFarming’s Kevin.
With regards breeding, plans are made in January with a team of bulls chosen. This year the farm has exceeded all previous years, by going with a team of 11 bulls.
“If you sit down and pick the top bulls based on your EBI, you won’t go too far wrong,”, Jamie advised.
The farm is also a Glanbia and Teagasc monitor farm, meaning the father of two has held his fair share of farm walks to date.
“We have held a good few farm walks…Last year we had the Irish grassland summer tour…We were very glad that we did it and have gained great experience out of it,”, he said.
“With the monitor programme we are giving out a lot of information but we also get a lot of information out of it as well…It’s well worth it, it came for us at just the right time for us,”, Jamie explained.
Prior to Agriculture -
Before becoming a new dairy entrant only four years ago, Jamie was actually self-employed and working within the agriculture industry. He was kept busy at the time with the construction of housing facilities, mainly slatted houses, while he also worked in land drainage too.
“We were also involved in agriculture through contracting, construction and some land drainage as well,” he noted.
“There is actually no farming in the blood at all, we were builders for many generations,”, Jamie added.
The plans for the coming year is to continue the gradual progression witnessed by the farming pair to date.
They have no major plans to dramatically increase their milking herd size, as Jamie says they are happy with their current stocking rate. He says the herd may increase in size to 115 at some stage, though this would be the maximum.
“With the recent tough spring, you have to be conscious that you need to grow enough silage. So, I think we will keep our overall maximum stocking rate as it is, at 2.5 or even a little bit less”, he said.
“That will probably bring our milking platform stocking rate up to 2.8,”, he added.
The operation will essentially remain as is and duties will remain shared between the husband and wife pairing.
Why he loves what he does:
If it's not the freedom, it is the satisfaction Jamie gains from watching his hard work bear fruit. He says this is one of the primary reason he keeps doing what he does.
“You get great satisfaction out of producing milk and getting good fats and proteins, growing the grass, seeing the calves coming back into the herd,”, he said.
“There is just a great satisfaction to be got out of it (farming) and you are your own boss. When I was working for myself, you had to go chasing people for money, you don’t have to worry about any of that. You know you are going to get paid for your milk.”, he said.
Although noting that there are numerous challenges, such as the weather and long hours, Jamie still feels the good outweighs the bad and said it is nice to know you yourself can work towards time off if you need to.
“You are sort of tied to the farm and it is seven days a week, but you can be smart with your hours so you don’t have to be a slave all day every day,”, he concluded.
Although only four years into his dairy career, Jamie, his wife Lorraine and their two children have already achieved a great level of success to date. If this is what they are capable of in four short years, it is only logical to presume the success will continue for many more to come.