Based near Dunlavin in Co. Wicklow, Joe Metcalfe is not only a dairy farmer but also runs a beef finishing and tillage enterprise alongside his father. Read his story below on this week’s ‘Young Farmer’ feature.
Performance - Yearly Average: 7,500 Litres, 525kgs of Milk Solids.
At 22-year-old, Joe Metcalfe has already experienced a lot of which agriculture has to offer.
Joe hails from a 150-acre holding near Dunlavin in Wicklow county, a farm which has been in his family since the 1960’s, having been inherited by Joe’s grandfather, Sean, who became the first of the Metcalfe family to milk cows. This makes Joe the third-generation within his family circle to have farmed these lands, with Joe returning on a full-time basis in August of this year.
“I am full-time at the moment on the home-farm. I have been home since August” Joe told That’sFarming’s Kevin.
“I am the third generation (farmer). My grandfather inherited this farm in the mid 60’s from an uncle…It was a bit of a swamp when he inherited it…He spent years and years draining the place to make it somewhat productive.” Joe added.
It is here on these lands near Dunlavin, that Joe and his father currently milk a herd of 70 Holstein/Friesians, with two Norwegian Reds and some Belgian Blue crosses also thrown in for good measure.
“We have 150-acres here, milking 70 cows, finishing all of the bulls at 18-24months. Then we have thirty acres of tillage as well.” Joe said.
“The vast majority are Holstein Friesian and there are two Norwegian Reds thrown in for a bit of colour and some Belgian Blues.” Joe laughed.
The Norwegian Reds were introduced into the herd by the family as sort of an experiment, though their lack of docility has seen them opt out of continuing the bloodline within the herd.
“Dad tried them out about ten years ago, but he actually didn’t like the temperament on them.” Joe said.
“So, most of them are gone. The majority were culled out, they were just wicked.”
The Metcalfe family also run their own beef finishing system, keeping and rearing all bull calves on the farm. They operate on a closed farm basis due to past problems with TB and the abundance of deer in the locality. In fact, they have operated on a closed herd basis since Joe’s grandfather’s time back in the mid-80’s. The family also run their own tillage enterprise, keeping 30-acres each year.
“We run a completely closed herd now and we have done since the mid-80’s.” said the Wicklow native.
For Joe, the interest in agriculture came at a very young age, having always played a significant role in the operation of the family farm throughout his youth. He says the intention was always to pursue agriculture, though it all could have been so different, had he pursued a last-minute educational choice.
“I have been involved in the farm since I was a young lad, helping dad out and what not.” said the Wicklow man.
Joe’s journey -
Throughout his primary and secondary education, Joe had always hoped that any future educational path included agriculture. He had always wanted to become a farmer, just like his father Anthony, though in Leaving Cert he had a change of heart.
“When I was doing the leaving, I was thinking of going to do Bio forensics in Carlow I.T. I got offered the course and deferred it for a year.” Joe explained.
Still not fully sure where his future lay, Joe then decided his best option was to get his Green Cert completed and out of the way. His next stop was to be Kildalton and he wouldn’t make it to Carlow afterwards either.
“I then decided to do the level 5 Agriculture degree in Kildalton, just to get the Green Cert.” Joe said.
“I was going to go back then and study full-time in Carlow, as I liked that course a lot, but I continued on and did the Advanced Certificate in Dairy Herd Management in Ballyhaise for a year.”
After this, not content with all he had learned, Joe then decided to pursue a Professional Farm Management degree with Teagasc Moorepark, a course he graduated from at the end of 2018.
“I was doing the Professional Farm Management course in Moorepark for the past two years. I finished that in the end of August,” said the young farmer.
Although now finished his studies, Joe says there could be more educational experiences down the line at some point.
“You don’t stop learning at the end of the day. I will probably end up doing short courses here and there.” Joe said to Kevin.
Running a milking herd of 70 Holstein/Friesians, the Metcalfe family are actually still using the parlour originally installed by Joe’s grandfather, a 6-unit Delaval.
“My grandfather started milking in the mid-70’s.” said the farmer.
“The parlour that we are still milking in now was built in 1974…It served us well to this point” Mark laughed.
The farm is currently run by Anthony and Joe, side-by-side, since Joe’s return from college. Their herd is split 50/50 into Spring and Autumn calving, meaning they also winter milk. Breeding on the farm is carried out completely via A.I., with all breeding cows put in-calf to high performing EBI bulls and non-breeding females put in-calf to Hereford and Belgian Blues.
“We winter milk as well. We are split 50/50 between Autumn and Spring calving.” Joe stated.
“It is all A.I., we don’t use stock bulls at all. All the top cows would get Holstein/Friesian (genetics), High EBI Holstein/Friesian bulls. Anything we are not breeding from would get Belgian Blue or Hereford”
Replacement heifer-wise, the family aim to calve down approximately 15 every year, split between Autumn and Spring calving. Any excess heifers born, are finished on the farm itself.
“We calve down about 15 every year, about 7 or 8 in Spring and the remaining in Autumn.” said the farmer.
“They all calf down at two years of age. Anyone that doesn’t, then she is out the gate.”
The Metcalfe family also run their own bull beef finishing enterprise, keeping all bull calves born on the Wicklow farm and rearing them to 18-24months, when they are then slaughtered. Joe says this enterprise was only started after the farm encountered TB problems. In general, the family usually keep approximately 25-30 bulls for finishing, with 10-15 Belgian Blue heifers also kept for finishing purposes.
“We have had our fair share of problems with TB down through the years, so it kind of forced our hand the last 4-5 years to go down the bull beef system with the Friesians as well as the beef animals.” The farmer explains.
Grazing-wise, all animals are grazed in an ABC paddock to paddock system, with strip grazing used in Autumn and early Spring. The dairy cow side of the farm are grazed on approximately 15 hectares in total during the Summer season and 30 hectares In Autumn and Spring.
“It’s all paddock grazing. Most of the ground has been reseeded in the last few years, so it is fairly productive, except in a wet year,” Joe explained.
“The 150-acres of land we have here is all in the one block.”
The tillage operation run by the family in Dunlavin, sees them keeping 30-acres every year. This is mainly made up of Winter Barley, which is put into storage in Wynne’s in Moone before it is bought back as a ration for the beef finishers. The family also keep their own straw and also grow a combination of whole crop oats and barley, again for use as feed. This year has seen them experiment with whole crop Rye, which they will use for finishing next year.
“We grow a combination of whole crop oats and barley, for feeding during the winter.” Joe said.
“We actually sowed 15-acres of Rye this year, to try it out next year.”
Future Hopes -
The Naas Macra club member and competitions officer says the future may see the family upgrade the parlour, which is in-use for over 35 years.
“We might build a new parlour next year.” He said.
In terms of cow numbers, Joe says the family will likely increase the size of their milking herd to at least 100-strong in the next couple of years. He aims to someday increase that further, though only if land becomes available in the area. The family may also expand on their cubicle housing in the next couple of years, should cow numbers increase as planned.
“We will probably go up to 100 cows in the next three to four years.” Joe told Kevin.
“Then after that, it is going to all depend on land availability around…Once we get to 100 cows, we are at our maximum on the home block.”
In the short term, Joe and the rest of the family will likely to continue with their bull beef enterprise. They will also continue with the tillage side of operations.
“We will have to see what way TB goes for the next few years.” Joe noted.
“You could mess yourself up if you went all dairy and sold all of the bull calves and then got locked up with TB.”
On a personal level, although Joe has only just returned home from college, he admits to wanting to pursue a career running a farm elsewhere for the time being. His father Anthony is nowhere near retiring himself yet and Joe wants to first experience some of the world. He will, though, return home at the stage when Anthony eventually decides enough is enough.
“I’m in between jobs and just evaluating where I want to go for the next few years. It’ll be probably a few years yet (until he returns home for good)” Joe explained.
“I am also considering going to New Zealand as well, just to experience over there and work on a dairy farm over there,”
Why Ag -
A man with a strong passion for cows and the outdoors, to Joe, dairy farming couldn’t be more suited.
“I just love working with cattle, seeing them grow and seeing them progress.” Joe said.
“Being outdoors as well, I wouldn’t be able to be copped up in an office all day, pushing paper. I would rather be outside, even if it is doing a mundane job like cleaning out calf pens. I would much rather do that.” He said of other reasons behind his passion for dairy.
Joe enjoys almost every aspect of the industry despite its challenging nature, and whether he likes it or not, dairy farming is flowing through his blood. It just might be time to forget about a career in Bio forensics.
Are you a Young farmer under the age of 40 like Joe? Fancy sharing your story and being featured in our Young Farmer series? If this sounds like you, contact Kevin by email with a short bio at email@example.com.